Bulgaria Volunteers Create Foundation, Continue Work with Roma Youth
By Peace Corps Connect on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Sustainability. We heard that word all through our service as Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria. We battled it each year as we filled out grant applications to fund leadership camps for girls and for Roma students. We wanted to help build on the successes of these camps after we had gone home. And so, Areté Youth Foundation was born.
Over the last four years, Areté has raised over $80,000 from more than 500 donors to fund Camp GLOW, Roma Camp Zaedno Napred (“Forward Together”), and a day camp for Roma students. This year, Areté is expanding beyond the camps thanks to a $576,000 three-year grant from the America for Bulgaria Foundation.
Founding Areté board member Jodi Stewart Miteva (Bulgaria 99-03) sees the expansion as a way to build on the 501(c)(3) organization’s mission to support promising youth who are limited by social and economic barriers.
“I believe AYF is beginning a very exciting new chapter that will not only allow us to realize our vision for the organization, but allow us to reach out and connect successful, talented young Roma leaders throughout the country,” said Stewart Miteva.
“The Role Models for Tomorrow” grant will allow Areté to broaden the Roma leadership camp and to implement two programs – an educational hub to create scholarship opportunities for Roma, and a European Roma Professional Network. Currently, Stewart Miteva and another founding Areté board member, Brian Murray (Bulgaria 02-05), are hiring a country director and establishing an office in Bulgaria. Then project managers will be sought for each of the new initiatives.
Roma are considered second-class citizens by many in Bulgaria. Roma youth tend to lack self-esteem, often do not finish their education, and rarely pursue opportunities to improve their social status.
Since the inception of Zaedno Napred in 2000 and the subsequent involvement of Areté in 2007, more than 280 Roma youth have participated in the camps, and many have come back as leaders. Murray believes the long-term relationship built by Areté provides a unique opportunity for the organization to provide additional tools and support as the youth continue their educational and professional development.
“Areté Youth Foundation is now poised to capitalize on ten years worth of blood, sweat, and tears of volunteers who have helped make leadership development in disadvantaged communities a priority in Bulgaria. We are proud of our partners, our donors and our volunteers,” Murray says. “With a new office and expanded programs, the bar has been set for our growing team. It’s an exciting time for the organization and for the communities we are serving.”
Elizabeth (Vernon) Kelley (Bulgaria 03-05) is a founding board member of Areté Youth Foundation. She teaches elementary school in the Seattle area.