Sailing with Aram Remains a Favorite Inn Activity

For 15 years, Aram Nersesian has provided families with an opportunity to explore the Chesapeake Bay

Inn families in front of boat

On a Thursday in late May, a group from The Children’s Inn at NIH climbed aboard a sailboat in Lusby, MD for a day trip in the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay. The weather was warm and a blue sky with wispy white clouds was overhead. It was the first sailing trip of the season for Aram Nersesian, now in his 15th year volunteering his services as a sailboat captain to the families staying at The Inn.

Nersesian, an Armenian-American from New York, fell in love with sailing as a young man. He even lived on his boat, a 60-foot custom aluminum schooner built in France in 1984, for several years. At the same time, he developed a passion for photography and began searching for impactful ways to give back to the community.

At first, that was through is photography. In 1979, not long after the end of the Vietnam War, 28-year-old Nersesian volunteered his services as a photojournalist, trading his work to The Catholic Relief Services and the International Rescue Committee for them to use in fundraising efforts. In return, they guided him safely amongst the refugee camps.
 
Nersesian settled in Lusby and returned to his love of sailing, but the experience working in Vietnam stuck with him. “I always tried to have both my work and personal projects have ‘intrinsic value,’” he explained. “By that I mean that somehow, the projects would help people.”

One day, he heard a report about the revitalizing impact sailing could have for breast cancer patients. He called an oncologist who was a friend of a friend offering to take patients out on the water for relaxing sails that would invigorate them at a stressful and scary time in their lives. Though the offer was appreciated, the oncologist instead referred him to The Children’s Inn. As it turned out, it was a perfect match.

He did not know what to expect that first day that The Inn was scheduled to come on board. “A bus pulled up with 15 people,” he laughed. “They were all ready to sail.”

The process has repeated itself over the years. Sometimes there are familiar faces, but often the trip out into the Bay with Aram is a first for all the families on board. “His enthusiasm is always evident,” said Family Program Operations Manager Kristin Arabian. “Aram takes the time to share his passion with the families and make them feel welcome in what can be a scary activity. When we leave, our families always feel like they’ve made a new friend.”
 
With life jackets secured on the younger sailors, Nersesian has been shipping out of his private dock during the summer months with a boat full of grateful families from The Inn for 15 years. On Thursday, his first sail of the year after a shoulder injury over the winter, he was joined by friends Susan and Red, both longtime sailors themselves who acted as his crew. The couple lives in Herndon, VA, and has been looking for similar ways to give back to the broader community through their love of sailing.

Most of the families who stay at The Inn are not from the local area, and many come to NIH from other countries. While their days are primarily spent in the presence of doctors and researchers, the families also get an opportunity to explore everything that Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area have to offer through the field trips set up by The Inn’s dedicated programming team. Sailing with Aram, which involves a 90-minute bus ride from the campus in Bethesda, gives them an opportunity to truly leave their stresses ashore and enjoy some salt air and some of the most beautiful natural views the region has to offer.

Though he has been providing the intrinsic value for which he strives to families at The Inn for 15 years, Nersesian is reluctant to take credit. “My captain’s hat goes off to the folks who arrange these activities,” he said, referring to The Inn’s Residents Services and Programming teams. “And also to all the organizations who donate their time, activities, facilities, and energy to give a little something to these families. Each month I am awed by the courage of the parents and the smiles and strength of the children. After each sailing trip, I am left more inspired, stronger, and more appreciative of everything around me. Each month, I am a better person for having met the families and staff who arrive on that bus, meet a total stranger, and get onto the boat!”

Inn kids helping raise the sail