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Tatjana Dražilović, Founder of NGO Centre Star - Centar Zvezda

Every Day is an Opportunity to Do Good

I have a family of a hundred children and believe there are more to come. They have taught and shaped me more than any university. I have met wonderful people and colleagues, and am living my purpose. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had to date and believe that even greater miracles lie ahead. And I’m able to constantly make my dreams come true, and the dreams of dozens of those who aren’t able to do it by themselves. And that is a priceless experience

My story begins way back in the 1990s, during my studies. Given that I also hail from a dysfunctional family and that I grew up under conditions that were more than modest, as a student doing a work experience placement at a school, I began to notice that there were children who had so much potential, but who lacked the support of their family and surroundings, and were therefore condemned to never develop that potential; to endure a dissatisfied life, unhappy, unaware of everything they could achieve and become. And then begins my personal struggle, firstly to try to help those I knew from my own neighbourhood, and then also further afield.

Around 15 years later, that desire of mine to primarily help children and young people who lacked family support intensified. Encouraged by a friend, I founded the association Centre Star (in accordance with the story of the starfish), and friends helped us create a logo, website and flyers. And that’s how it started, somehow by itself, guided by some higher force, by coincidences that certainly weren’t coincidental.

We launched the programme of the House of Opportunities in Belgrade in the autumn of 2015, as a pilot programme that was the first of its kind in Serbia. This is housing with support for young people who usually leave children’s care homes or foster families after turning 18.

Around a hundred youngsters without parental care have been accepted and supported until they became independent. The House of Opportunities has opened its doors in Belgrade, Niš and Kragujevac

It was difficult to rent a property for that purpose and to find people who are willing to work – often completely voluntarily, to convince expert workers that we are worthy of trust; to convince organisations and institutions of our serious intentions to persevere and develop. It required that I quit my job and devote myself to engaging in an uncertain and short-term project; that I forget about fixed working hours, weekends, and days off, and that my life, as well as my family and friends, take on a completely different dimension and role – serving those in need.

Today, 10 years after that fateful decision, with all the ups and downs, I consider that to have been one of those turning points in life that change you forever. The Centre Star Association is a second home to me and my family. Despite still being insufficiently known, this small, local organisation has changed the lives of many for the better. Around a hundred youngsters without parental care have been accepted and supported until they became independent. The House of Opportunities has opened its doors in Belgrade, Niš and Kragujevac. Securing funding has been complicated, so five years ago we began making decorative candles, wooden decorations and other items, in order to ensure our self-sustainability, and work therapy and a work ethic for youngsters. We sell them to companies as corporate gifts, at trade fairs and markets, and from the profits we cover our costs of property rental, food, education for young people, medical treatment, therapy and the like.

I now have a family of another hundred children and believe there are more to come. They have taught and shaped me more than any university. I have met wonderful people and colleagues, and am living my purpose. I understand that every day is an opportunity to do something good, new and different. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had to date and believe that even greater miracles lie ahead. And I’m able to constantly make my dreams come true, and the dreams of dozens of those who aren’t able to do it by themselves. And that is a priceless experience..

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