Testimony from the Summer 2015 U.S. Mentors Delegation visiting Europe

Tara Parrish, Springfield, Massachusetts
Pioneer Valley Project

Tara delivering training in Bulgaria

Tara delivering training in Bulgaria

“It was an honor to participate in the WSOS/Great Lakes Consortium exchange. It was a wonderful professional challenge to design and deliver relevant, appropriate and useful trainings in new cultural contexts and to learn more about great complexity of doing community organizing in emerging civil society sectors in Bulgaria and Slovakia. I especially appreciated the opportunities to meet with Roma community leaders to learn about their important organizing work in the face of racial, social and economic discrimination.

I hope that this program continues its important focus on organizing in minority communities and supports the identification of Roma organizers and their professional development. Social change happens when ordinary people shed light on the wounds of injustice and build power focused on a shared vision for justice and transformation.

There are many reasons to be hopeful about the continued growth of the community organizing field in Central and Eastern Europe. I feel fortunate to have had this incredible opportunity to learn from and support and train organizers and leaders who are committed to justice and equality in this part of the world.”


Ellen delivering training in Bulgaria

Ellen Glover, Chicago, Illinois
One Northside
ellen“The GLC Fellowship was such a great experience for me professionally, personally and culturally. It was an amazing opportunity to get to meet the communities that my fellows’ organize and to see how their work is both similar and different to our organizing work in the USA. I look forward to continuing the friendships that I built through this experience as well as the professional contacts. It was transformational to get to connect with the international organizing community.”



June 28, 2015, Sofia, Bulgaria: Tara Parrish and Ellen Glover (in the middle) with Bulgarian Alumni after a training in Community Organizing.

Sondra Youdelman, New York City, New York
Community Voices Heard
sondratogetgerWhat an incredible experience! As we continue in the day-to-day race of our critical social justice work, it’s rare that we take the time or get the opportunity to share what we’re learning with others, and to step outside our own preconceived notions and embedded thoughts and see things differently. The professional fellows program offered that type of learning and rejuvenating experience for both sides. I am energized by my new perceptions and excited about the path forward.”

Sarah Jane Knoy, Manchester, New Hampshire
Granite State Organizing Project
Sarah“I am very pleased to have been a part of the summer 2015 delegation. Returning as a mentor for the second time has helped me understand the context the fellows work in more deeply and allows me to assist them more effectively. It has been wonderful to see the progress made by my 2013 fellow over the past two years. Thank you for allowing me and GSOP to participate in this exchange!”

Hannah Willage, Chicago Illinois
hannahChicago Coalition for the Homeless
“The GLC legislative fellowship has provided an amazing professional experience. I look forward to ongoing partnership with my fellows and seeing their successful work.”

Elizabeth Balint, Toledo, Ohio
WSOS/ Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and
elizabethDevelopment“It was a great opportunity to be with this U.S. mentor delegation in Romania and Hungary to learn from them and also see our alumni in doing joint activities with their mentors. The Spring 2015 Professional Fellows group was very active in every country in preparing the program for their mentors and spending time with them and the American delegation. As a result we could learn more about the participants of this program and their culture and traditions. Special thanks for the fellows who provided home stays and/or home hospitality for some of the U.S. mentors. It was a unique experience. We hope that the relationships that we built between our U.S. mentors and our European alumni will continue as the alumni are implementing follow on activities where
further mentoring and consultations will be very helpful. Thank You for this great experience to everyone involved!”

Nik Belanger, Charlottesville, Virginia
Virginia Organizing
niknik1“As a member of the U.S. delegation to Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary, I saw firsthand the power of community organizing to build stronger, more democratic communities in Central and Eastern Europe. Through the time I spent in Romania working one-on-one with our Fellow to develop an action plan to win a Roma artisan center in Petrosani, I learned more about Roma culture and how her community is fighting to preserve it. In Slovakia, I met with several NGOs, led trainings for immigrant organizations, and talked about Virginia Organizing’s Dismantling Racism work with community leaders. My time in Hungary allowed me to meet with my fellow to discuss his supervision and training of several new community organizers in a newly-formed national network of organizations. In only a couple short weeks, I met people who are just starting to think about community organizing and others who have already committed their lives to it. In all of this, I am grateful for the opportunity to meet so many amazing people and excited to see what happens next!

Kelly Viselman, Chicago, Illinois
Jane Addams Senior Caucus
kelly“The GLC fellowship program was an excellent experience professionally and personally. Collaborating and training with other organizers from the United States and Eastern Europe helped me refine my training and facilitation skills. The fellowship also provided time for valuable reflection on my work in Chicago and helped me feel more connection to a global struggle for justice”.


July 10, 2015, Budapest, Hungary: (L-R) row 1: Ellen Glover, Tara Parrish, Sondra Youdelman, Hannah Willage and Kelly Viselman; row 2: Sarah Jane Knoy and Nik Belanger.

Dana Trombitasova – fellow from Slovakia

BIG FOTOMs. Dana Trombitasova works in Agency for Development of Gemer region in Hnusta, south of Slovakia as a coordinator for international activities. The focus of agency´s actions is on initiation, realization and coordination of strategic activities for multilateral and dynamic development of Gemer region. The Gemer region in one of the poorest regions in Slovakia with the highest unemployment rate. Ms Trombitasova has been working mainly with young people and youth workers from Gemer region focusing on rising public awareness by organizing, mediating and providing information about trainings, seminars, workshops, conferences, exhibitions and presentations of regional projects.

Ms Trombitasova is a co-writer and project manager of international training and networking course for youth workers with a name SigNature. The main aim of the project is to provide greater understanding of interconnections between formal and non-formal education by using natural resources and activities in nature as a non-formal learning environment within the educational process. Ms Trombitasova works closely with Roma youngsters while helping them to be easier included into educational process by using non-formal educational tools. As the coordinator of international projects brings closer opportunities of trainings, education and volunteering service abroad to Roma youngsters in order to broaden their horizons and to develop their soft skills and communication in foreign language to rise their chances on a labor market.


Revuca foto: www.najkrajsikraj.sk/

Ms Trombitasova has Master degree in Tourism from University of Matej Bel in Banska Bystrica and Bachelor degree in Management from University of Presov in Presov. She has spent one semester in Spain where she was studying subjects of EMTM – Erasmus Mundus Tourism Management program. During her studies she has participating in various trainings and seminars regarding to leadership skills, communication skills, entrepreneurship and start-ups. As a volunteer she was working with normal and disabled kids in kindergartens providing animotherapy with ponies. Ms Trombitasova has participated also on various international trainings and networking courses for youngsters and youth workers focusing on democracy, ecology and sustainability and project writing by using non-formal educational tools and methods. Ms Trombitasova has participated on Global Community Development Project in Sri Lanka, where she was working 2 months as a volunteer for Sri Lanka´s NGO. Her tasks were management and marketing of community projects, organizing events for under-privileged kids, fundraising, donation activities and direct work with under-privileged schools and communities.



Ms Trombitasova is fascinated by success and power of bottom-up actions. She would like to work more with young leaders from Roma minority and gain new knowledge and experience in organizing of community to be able to create sustainable projects where members of community will point out their problems and become to be active and creative in finding solutions. This will be her first trip to the United States. Ms Trombitasova would like to gain new knowledge and skills relating to community organizing to be able to use this method in a proper way in work with communities in her region. She consider the right way how to achieve it to learn from successful community organizers who have visible results and in the U.S. – country where community organizing was born.

Ms Trombitasova is fluent in English, can communicate in Spanish, understands German and has basic knowledge of Polish and Russian language.  She is a proactive and communicative person with can-do attitude and sense for detail, who wants to help to improve life in her region and see results of her actions. In free time, Ms Trombitasova likes to spent time in nature by hiking, jogging, cycling, skiing and rock climbing and she likes to relax with good book. She also enjoys travelling, get to know new cultures and to learn foreign languages. Ms Trombitasova will have her internship at United Valley Interfaith Project (New Hampshire/Vermont)

Blazhka Dimitrova – fellow from Bulgaria

blagichkaBlazhka Krasteva Dimitrova is a teacher in “Teach for Bulgaria” Foundation, part of multinational organization “Teach for All”, since 2013. Her primary mission as a teacher is to give a quality education to every child regardless of its social status. During the two years of the program for teacher-leaders organized by the Foundation Blazhka achieved notable results with her students who were labeled as stupid and not worthy. At the end of the 2013/2014 school year, the Foundation made a film about her and her students because of the enormous progress made in a year and the positive change in 12th grade’s classroom. Except 12th grade she teaches 11th and 5th as well. She teaches English, Theatre and Cinema, Professional and Personal development classes and frequently invites famous people and role models in the classroom, who share their life experience and the reasons for their success.

Furthermore Blazhka is dedicated to volunteering in all forms. At the moment she is working together with her students on a “Volunteer club” at the school she is teaching in. During the last year she has been working hard as a mentor to disadvantaged youths as part of her volunteer work for “Step for Bulgaria” Foundation. As a mentor she meets with her youth who is Roma every week and they set goals for themselves, plan future steps to lead them to success and evolvement, they talk about life. Every month mentors and their youth get together at an organized from the volunteers event. These events always have a theme which is of importance to the youngsters. During the events everybody works together, they learn new things through fun and interactive methods.



Blazhka is also a volunteer as a trainer and a leader in “The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award”. This is a personal growth program for young people that combines practical experience and skill development the result of which are young, responsible citizens of the world. Blazhka devotes a big part of her time to motivate young people to become part of the Award and to develop themselves.

During her student years Blazhka proves herself as an active person with a strong position and a person who wants to grow and develop. She has worked at a leading radio media as a co-host in the morning show and an author of articles. During the years she becomes more and more familiar with children’s rights through her internship in the Ombudsman’s Institution and then through her internship in the Institution of Modern Politics, where she spends months of hard work into creating an Internet site, containing all of the children’s rights and responsibilities, described in a understandable for them language.

Country Church With Autumn Color Of Sugar Maples Greenfield, New Hampshire

Photo: Ron and Patty Thomas Photography

In school she has been awarded multiple times at different events. Her desire for constant learning takes her to Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridksi” where she finishes her Bachelor’s degree in “Public Administration”. After that she is accepted for a Master’s degree in “National Security and Defense” in the Military Academy “G. S. Rakovski”. Alongside with that she also finishes a postgraduate qualification in English Literature and Pedagogy as a part of her teacher-leaders program in “Teach for Bulgaria”.

In her spare time she likes to go to the theater and to cook. Her passion for confectionery finds expression in a site that she herself creates, in which can be found more than 40 of her favorite recipes. She loves learning new languages. She speaks English, basic Spanish and French. In 2011 she worked in the United States under the program “Work and travel” and this trip to America will be her second. She believes that the US Fellowship Exchange Program will give her a lot of practical experience to apply in her work and through that to achieve a positive change for the community with and in which she works. Blazhka will have her internship at United Valley Interfaith Project (New Hampshire/Vermont).

Stoyan Pavlov – fellow from Bulgaria

Picture S. PavlovMr. Stoyan Pavlov has been working as an Assistant Director and teacher of visually impaired children in a Resource Center for Support of integrated education of children with special educational needs in Pazardzhik. He has 18 years of experience in his work with children and young people with disabilities and people form minorities. Before his official career Stoyan Pavlov was a volunteer in homes for children with disabilities. In a later stage he took part in their closure as a consultant to the State Agency for Child Protection and in the establishment of new services that enable the normal life and childhood for all children. In 1997 is an educator in a Daycare Center for Children with disabilities. In 1999 he became a Director of that Center, which he managed for about two years. During this time he worked on several projects for creating a supportive environment for young people with disabilities and work with their families. At this period of time he accepted volunteers from different countries of Europe. Since 2001 he was a social worker and supported families mainly of Roma origin from the whole Pazardzhik region. He participated in the establishment of the first child protection services in Bulgaria. In 2001 Stoyan Pavlov started to work in a Special School for Children with mental retardation for a period of about five years. Then in 2006 he became a special educator in the team of the newly opened Resource Center for Integrated Education of Children with Special Educational Needs Pazardzhik.


Pazardjik town

Meanwhile he graduated pedagogy of visually impaired children at the University St. Kliment Ohridski, located in the capital Sofia. He was elected for a Chairman of the Association of the school board of the Resource Center Pazardzhik. From 2010 he has been working as an Assistant Director, who is in charge of the educational activities and a teacher of visually impaired children. He also participates in the implementation of several international projects with the participation of specialists from different countries from Europe and Asia. He is a Certified Practitioner of the Intensive communication methods, which aims to develop the communication with children with severe disabilities and at a low stage of development, to the Institute of intensive communication – Britain. He successfully finished a course on the use of drama and game in a resource office and classroom in Dublin, Ireland. Since 2012 Stoyan Pavlov is a Secretary of the National Association of resource teachers in Bulgaria. It is a Professional community of experts, working with children with disabilities integrated into mainstream education. In his capacity of a Secretary of the National Association, Stoyan Pavlov took part in the organization of debates and discussions concerning the educational policies of the government for children with disabilities. He was a national coordinator of the protest actions against the Commission for Education of the 43rd National Assembly. He participated in the drafting of a new law for education in the section training of children and pupils with special educational needs.



Stoyan Pavlov is a trainer of teachers and professionals working with children with disabilities and children from minorities. A voluntary consultant for several foundations, working with Roma children in Pazardzhik with the purpose of integration of the children in schools and support of their development. By participating in the Professional Fellowship Exchange Program, Mr. Pavlov hopes to improve his skills for working with children and students from different minorities and to increase his skills in relation to developing a supportive environment for people with disabilities. He is interested in the state policy of the USA in the area of inclusive education, as well as the local practices.
In his free time, Stoyan Pavlov works in theater, playing the guitar and singing, listening to music and read books. Mr. Pavlov is highly motivated to develop himself in the field of special education and inclusive practices. He starts to prepare a doctoral dissertation on the education of children with mental disabilities in mainstream schools.
He is married to Petya Pavlova, a sales representative in a large international corporation and has a 14 years old son. Stoyan will have his internship at Access Living Chicago. 

Antoaneta Nenkova – fellow from Bulgaria

toni_passportAntoaneta is born in Pernik, located 30 km south of Sofia. Since 1988 she is living in Sofia. Antoaneta is a Journalist, a Member of the General Assembly and of the Board of Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

She has 15 years of experience as a correspondent of the Bulgarian service of Deutsche Welle (DW) Radio in Sofia. She received her master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Sofia University. From 1992 she is a part of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee – a non-governmental organization for the protection of human rights. Nenkova’s  main  responsibilities as a senior researcher and coordinator of the Children in Institutions Projects of the BHC include  monitoring, analysis and reporting on a variety of human rights issues. Related activities: organization and participation in a series of focus groups, conferences, public debates & events, seminars & trainings, exchange of experience, cross-border cooperation and consultancy. Mrs. Nenkova is also a member of the Working Group “Family and Deinstitutionalization” of the National Network for Children.



Most of her work as a researcher is on the field, where she meets (un)ordinary people. They are residents of psychiatrics, homes for abandoned children, social homes for adults, refugee camps and Roma ghettos. The core goal of Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is to promote respect and protection of human rights, to lobby for legislative changes aimed to bring Bulgarian legislation in line with international human rights standards, to encourage public debate about human rights’ problems and to promote the concept of human rights among the general audience. Antoaneta Nenkova places a special priority to the rights’ protection of the most vulnerable groups which live in Bulgaria: ethnic minorities, underprivileged groups, persons deprived of their liberty, children and women.

The topics Antoaneta Nenkova has strong expertise are:  Child Care Policy; Minority rights; Immigration; Integration and Educational Inclusion; Media Freedom; Hate speech, Cultural Diversity. In 2014 she agreed to serve as a country expert for the Varieties of Democracy Project which advances the understanding of the historical process of democratization. “Varieties of Democracy” (V-Dem) aim to produce better Indicators of Democracy and is collaboration among the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, USA.

chicago-skycrapersAntoaneta Nenkova is author of several publications amongst which is Children in institutions, volume 5: Homes for Children with Special Needs. Nenkova is also author of many articles in the Bulgarian printed press and Radiobroadcasts (Bulgarian National Radio, Deutsche Welle) on the Minority realities and Human Rights of the Disadvantaged Minority Groups in Bulgaria.

Antoaneta Nenkova speaks German, English and Russian. Antoaneta Nenkova has been awarded with numerous prizes. Among them: prize winner of the USAID Media competition; Paniza Prize for Bulgarian Journalists. In her free time Antoaneta enjoys the beautiful piece of Albinoni – The Adagio in G minor and extreme sports. Her family enjoys the time together. Her two daughters are students in Netherlands. When they are in Bulgaria the family enjoys skiing, snowboarding, surfing, paragliding. Antoaneta will have her internship at Community Renewal Society (Chicago).

Diana Nedeva – fellow from Bulgaria

PictureDiana Nedeva is projects coordinator, volunteer, trainer. She is working on different projects with focus on empowerment, anti-discrimination, life-long learning, human rights, global education.

She works with several NGOs in Bulgaria and her main occupation is as a coordinator at Caritas Sofia where she is coordinating projects for refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. The life of these minority groups is very challenging. That’s why they need to be supported in order to find their own way to start a better life and learn to be independent.

Ms. Nedeva also works with C.E.G.A. Foundation where she is part of a team organizing Global education trainings for youth leaders, teachers and students.

She started volunteering only 6 years ago, but since then she is actively promoting volunteering. For her this is one of the best ways to discover what is interesting for you, find inspiration, learn how to achieve your goals and find out how you could help the others.

Sofia_04Diana was an EVS (European voluntary service) volunteer in Germany in 2012 and her main tasks were connected with preparing, implementing and reporting training courses and youth exchanges with main topics like anti-discrimination, racism, xenophobia; inclusion and equality.  One of the methods she used is Forum theatre, very powerful tool for social change in her opinion. That is why at the moment she is part of a group which is planning to work with different minority groups in Bulgaria using this method as main.

Ms. Nedeva graduated from Public administration in Sofia. Since 2011 she is participating in different trainings and she is currently one of the participants in Training of trainers (10 months) organized by SALTO and working on developing her skills as a trainer. Her training practice project (which she organises together with 3 other participants within TOT) is for youth and social workers who want to develop their competences in empowering young people with fewer opportunities to become aware of, and act on, their dreams and visions of their own futures.

Chicago BeanThis will be her first opportunity to visit the U.S. She is very excited about the project and eager to know more about creating and supporting the leadership in the different minority communities, how to facilitate coalitions in the community organizing processes and improve her knowledge about organizing campaigns with them.

In her free time she loves to dance tango, play board games, participate in theatre courses, do yoga. Diana will have her internship at Illinois Coalition of Immigrants and Refugees Rights (Chicago)

Asen Mitkov – fellow from Bulgaria


foto: Chad Evans Wyatt

Asen Mitkov was born and raised in Vidin, north part of Bulgaria. He has solid experience in social work, especially with Roma communities. When he has started his work as social work he though it’s his mission – helping others. He has been working for more than 10 years in this field in his own community in the town of Vidin. Hi is styding 1st year Social Pedagogy in South-West University in Bulgaria.

His first experience with minority groups was when he started to work in the non-profit organization DROM on a project, aiming at desegregation of students from minority. Asen and his team were providing conditions for access to quality education to Roma children in integrated school environments. He was one of the team members who created the Vidin model of desegregation and integration. Asen’s specific role during the running of the project was to be one of the couches for students. That was the person who supported and motivated them visiting school, observed this whole process and resolved problems if happened ones.

Currently Asen is working in Centre for Working with Street Children (CWSC). The main people of the center are Roma children whose parents and family do not take the necessary care and thus neglect them and placed in social risk. The center provides day care, food and clothing, hygiene and health care, educational support and education, positive choices for their spare time, etc. for its students.

vidin8Particular emphasis in the work is the return and retention of children in school. Thus all these cares is about to achieve better quality of life of the children, their social integration as well as increased parental potential. Asen’s main role is to do the outreach work. He is mainly working in segregated fields and marginalized part of Vidin, in Roma neighborhood, where he detects children from minority who are poor, neglected or begging. Once he identifies those children he establishes initial contacts and searching for their family or relatives, informing them about the Centre, where the children could receive support. Asen is maintaining contacts with their parents or guardians and ensures counseling and mediation.

Besides his passion for social work Asen is passionate for recording videos. He had four months training course  at the non-profit foundation Witness New York as camera man and he participated as volunteer in preparing documentary movie about the desegregation process in Vidin, Bulgaria.

photo: Yang Yang

photo: Yang Yang

Asen is very keen to see examples and practices from the state in the field of Social work, but he is also looking forward to get more acquainted with Community Organizing.

He speaks Bulgarian, Romanes, little Russia and English. He likes cameras and spends his time shooting movies or work in parks and enjoys chatting with friends. He and his wife have two sons: the eldest is attending South West University while the younger has just graduated from secondary school. He enjoys spending time with his family and having joy outside Vidin. Asen will have his internship at Neighborhood Organizing for Changes (Minneapolis, MN)

Antoaneta Bozhikova – fellow from Bulgaria

ani_photoAntoaneta Bozhikova is 30 years, born in Sofia, Bulgaria. She has a brother and sister who both live in Germany. Antoaneta finished humanitarian high school, studying exclusively English and Greek.

She continues with the Law Faculty of the University of National and World Economy. In 2012 she successfully graduated as Lawyer. International law, EU law and American law with Mr. Joseph Benley were her favorite subjects. She has been intrigued by the American judicial system which is very different from the Bulgarian one.

Since 2013 she works as a legal counsel in the Technical University of Sofia. Antoaneta is mainly responsible for all the contracts, which the University signs, Public procurement and international relationships.

First time she has been involved with the non-profit sector was during the high school years. At that time she got involved with Bulgarian Red Cross, where she became a volunteer, organizing different health campaigns and initiatives. She has also organized different events for and by young people, collecting clothes and books for children in orphanages, sports events where children from such institutions played basketball, volleyball or football with other young people.21809579_l

While she went to her mandatory internship to the Ministry of Justice, Antoaneta was introduced to the social democratic political party. She got involved in event dedicated to youth unemployment. Then she started to follow this issue and she received trainings in leadership such as the “Summer Academy For Social Democracy” and “Give Your Voice a Volume”, both organized by Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Antoaneta also participated in C.H.A.R.M. project organized by C.E.G.A. foundation. Since then she was involved in variety initiatives on gender issues and political leadership. One of her recent activities related to volunteering is the mentoring program called “Able mentor” and for 4 months she worked as mentor of a young girl, who wanted to become a lawyer.

For the last two years, Anotaneta is a volunteer in Gender Project Foundation where she is working on projects dedicated to the empowerment of women in Bulgaria.

© 1999 EyeWire, Inc.

© 1999 EyeWire, Inc.

Currently she is engaged in the “Civil Discussion for Change” project tackling the problems in within the legal system, electoral Legislation, direct democracy and other issues. Recently she has been chosen to represent the project aims and goals in front of members of parliament and ministers. To prepare she will undergo special training on how to assert and defend thesis.

From January 2015 Antoaneta got involved and committed herself to be part of Pro European Network, an organization where Alumni from the Professional Exchange Programs are in strategic planning and one of the main topics is Community Organizing.

Antoaneta is a very active person – she likes hiking, jogging, fitness, dancing salsa and Zumba. She is open minded and a friendly person.

She speaks English, Greek and little bit of Russian and German languages. Currently she is taking French language courses. Antoaneta will be doing her internship at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (Chicago).