9 U.S. Mentors will travel in Europe in February 2014

9 U.S. mentor will travel to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia between February 9-28, 2014 on the “Building Grassroots Democracy in Minority Communities” professional exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Professional Fellows Division. Click here to learn more about the U.S. participants and their organizations.

Testimonies from the Fall 2013 Professional Fellows European Delegation visiting the United States

“The most important part of this program for me was to see in practice how the community is engaged in solving the problems of a wide variety of stakeholders including parents, business, grassroots political organizations, ethnic minority organizations and faith based groups”, – Kalina Hristova, Bulgaria

“When I applied to this internship, I didn’t know what to expect from it or myself. That was a good move because I had the chance to experience the American life on my own from scratch. I’m very grateful for this great opportunity to come to the U.S. and learn about community organizing, the culture and people” – Oana Botezan, Romania

“I found this internship to be very insightful and inspiring. Through my wonderful mentors, I was reminded especially about the significance of the genuine connection with people and my experience has become mostly about the people and that the people matter the most. Power comes from the people, for the people” – Roman Tyska, Slovakia

“My experience during the trainings and the internship helped me to develop a broader understanding of the different roles and possibilities in working with people while on the other hand, I also could experience different types of organizing – Annamaria Kovacs, Hungary

Read the testimonies from all the alumni here:

school outreach in Humboldt park in Chicago

Volunteering in Humboldt park, Chicago – school outreach on housing issues

school outreach in Humboldt park in Chicago

school outreach in Humboldt park in Chicago

On Wednesday afternoon, October 23, we (two European fellows: Boba Baluchova from Slovakia and Lia Gaudi from Romania as CCH interns) decided to join three Community organizers from “Chicago coalition for the Homeless” (CCH) and leaders from organization “Casa Central – La Posada” in order to help them during school outreach in the area of Humboldt Park. It is one of the neighborhoods in Chicago – widely known for its large Puerto Rican presence. We were divided into groups of two – to be sure that at least one person in group is able to speak Spanish fluently.

The goal of this outreach was: contacting adults/parents in front of the Lowell elementary school (while waiting for their children coming out from school) and sharing particular information. We told them about special educational rights and school support  (according to U.S. law) for children from families – struggling with housing issues (homeless families, doubled-up families, moving families without regular place to stay etc.). These children should receive free transit cards, fee waivers for uniforms, field trips etc. in order: not to be discriminated or excluded.

CCH people, few leaders from Casa Central (mothers and women from this Latino community) and us (volunteers – European fellows) tried to raise awareness about educational rights and encourage people to ask for them. Many adults in front of the Lowell elementary school have known somebody else in neighborhood – experiencing homelessness or “doubled-up” life (sharing the house with another family), but they haven’t known about this possibility – to ask Homeless liaison (particular person in every single school – dealing with housing issues of students) for support for their children. It was very interesting practical activity in the field.

Text by Boba Baluchova

Seven European fellows at BBQ party together

On Saturday, first day of weekend (October 19), European fellows didn’t go to work to their host organizations. Instead they attended nice BBQ-party at house of Joanna Brown and Josh Hoyt house (Zsofi and Viktoria – Hungarian and Bulgarian fellows’ hosting family). Few weeks ago we already met Josh Hoyt (chief executive strategist at Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights: http://www.icirr.org/) at training on community organizing in Chicago. So it was nice to meet him and his family again.

Some of fellows (Laura, Annamaria and Gabriela) also came there with their host “mothers” – very interesting and active ladies (involved into community work). Zsofi and Viktoria prepared few examples of very delicious Hungarian and Bulgarian food. Finally all seven girls from Romania (Lia, Laura), Bulgaria (Viktoria), Hungary (Annamaria, Zsofi) and Slovakia (Gabriela, Boba) were able to meet at the same place and share their experiences from their interesting internships. All European fellows (placed as interns in Chicago organizations) are looking forward to meet again next weekend…

Volunteering in Wichita, Kanzas

The European fellows Vladislav Petkov (Bulgaria), Robert Bekefi (Hungary) and Elena Carbunaru (Romania) volunteered in the logistical preparation of a fundraising event – Second Annual Art Auction. The event was organized in Anna Murdock’s café in Wichita, Kansas by The Seed House (Casa de la Semilla) and took place on October 12th 2013.

77 pieces of art donated by local and external artists were offered to the public on silent and live auction. The European fellows helped with moving furniture, arranging spaces, decoration and other logistical details.

Direct action of CCH advocates in front of Chicago mayor’s office

Over the past year and a half, housing and social service advocates in Chicago have worked quietly to tackle a controversial issue — easing CHA’s long-standing restrictions on residents with criminal records. They formed a Re-entry committee, drafted a pilot program and found a sympathetic ear at the very top of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) — Charles Woodyard, who just last month committed to keep meeting with them about the idea.
On October 17, the members of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) decided to take a direct action and visit the Chicago Mayor’s office. European interns Lia Gaudi and Boba Baluchova joined the group of CCH advocates in order to deliver the letter to Rahm Emanuel’s office — to request a meeting about the proposed CHA Re-entry Pilot Project.

Pastor Charles Austin is one of the advocates with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) on the issue of CHA withholding housing from people re-entering from incarceration brought to light by CCH’s Reentry Committee. According to him: “After coming out from the County Jail people are suggested to rebuild their life. But it is very hard to rebuild the life without the foundation of a stable place to live. This Re-entry project can help convicted offenders find place to live more quickly.”
It was very interesting direct action. But also the debriefing led by the director of CCH was also very important in order to understand the process of thinking, planning and acting of community organizers. European fellows took photos and recorded the video of whole event.

European Fellows took part in “Take back Chicago”

On Tuesday evening European fellows took an action and joined almost 3 000 Chicagoans in the fight to take back the jobs, schools, housing and safety net. On October 15, Romanian fellow Lia Gaudi and Slovak fellow Boba Baluchova (the newest interns in ‘Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’: CCH) with 150 co-workers, organizers and leaders from CCH attended the event: “Take Back Chicago!” in UIC Forum at 5 pm. The girls were there already at 3 pm and helped the organizers from the core organizations ‘Grassroots collaborative’ & ‘Stand up! Chicago’ to set up the room and distribute printed materials about the event.

At this event about 35 organizations called for affordable housing, fair taxes, increasing of minimum wage, stop public schools’ closing (more info: http://standupchicago.org). Majority of the main hall of UIC Forum (fast-food and supermarket workers etc.) declared that a salary: 8,5 USD/per hour is not enough for living in dignity…

The fellows Annamaria Kovacs (Hungary) and Laura Stefanut (Romania) joined their friends Lia & Boba and took a lot of photos during the rally. Being present during the preparation of program, planning the agenda and setting up the room is very important for community organizer – to use the power of people, to have a control of event and to push the guest-speakers (politicians on hot chair on the stage) to make right decisions. It was inspiring rally – full of courageous people.