"I do this for my people, especially the kids," Balayan said. "I am thinking of their future. They don't know what is going on with politics in their country."
Since then, the Christmas Fund has grown steadily. In 2009, the fund gained official nonprofit status. Balayan, 80, now works alongside more than 100 volunteers, among them Glendale-area lawyers, doctors and business leaders.
Last year, the telethon netted about $90,000. This year, organizers are expecting 2,000 families and 75 area businesses to make pledges. And dozens of public officials, including Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and state Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Burbank) have already extended their support.
"Every year, the intention is to make sure we collect at least as much as we collected last year," said volunteer Hovik Gabikian.
The mission and scope of the fund has also expanded. In recent years, money raised in Glendale has helped finance renovations and new construction at schools and orphanages designed to meet the needs of disabled children in the Armenian cities of Spitak and Kharpert.
In 1988, Spitak was the epicenter of a massive earthquake that killed more than 25,000 people, many of them crushed in cheaply constructed apartments and schools. Because of the tensions of the Cold War, the international humanitarian response was muted and the recovery slow.
Balayan visited the region after the disaster, observing the conditions of survivors, many of them children who lost parents and siblings. More than two decades later, there are still people living in shanty towns, he said.
Funds raised during this year's telethon will enable the construction of a dormitory and gym at a school in Spitak, Ovanes said.
Representatives from the Christmas Fund, including Ovanes and other prominent members of the Armenian American community, travel regularly to project sites in Armenia.
Armenian Americans maintain close ties with Armenia, Gabikian said, and have a deep sense of obligation to help whenever possible.
Armenians living and working in the United States often send money overseas to family members and friends. And they traditionally are generous with Armenian charities, especially senior citizens, organizers said.
"It is not the amount that matters as much as the intention," Gabikian said. "There is a sense of being able to participate in doing something for those in need."