Serbian Youth Leadership Program (also known as SYLP) is a specially designed program that supports leadership, activism, respect of diversity and civic education in youth of Serbia and the United States. In 2003, 36 people from Serbia, students and teachers, were selected to visit the USA and for many of them, it was the first visit to this country.

This was a four-week-long program where students learned to communicate effectively, work in teams and take a leading role when necessary. They stayed in host families and integrated into communities focusing on different themes, educational opportunities, grassroots activism or multiethnic society and tolerance. The program was rounded up by a week-long stay in Washington, D.C where participants’ experiences were shared and evaluated. As a teacher I had a special program which supported and corresponded to the students’ one.

Our group, Sonja, Viktorija, Radmila and I, spent three weeks in Florida which is a very beautiful and rich state. With all its beauties, beaches, plant life, Florida is a paradise for elderly people who usually come there especially because of the mild climate and the services which are accommodated to them.

We spent the most amazing time of our lives while learning at the same time.

It is easy to talk about the community service and leadership but experiencing it is completely different. Before going there we could not imagine how much people are involved in community service and to what extent it makes a difference.

1. Meals on Wheels

One of the things we have experienced was Meals on Wheels, a non-profit corporation which helps the elderly people to stay independent by having hot and nutritionally well-balanced meals on regular basis.



This volunteer program has been in progress for more than 30 years and it is also supported by various sources. Over 60 percent of the Meals on Wheels PLUS is raised through the support of the local donations, grants and fund raising projects. The rest comes mostly from certain clients who can afford to give away, local and Federal government bodies, civic, religious organizations and a growing number of concerned individuals.

While delivering meals, with the gracious help of my host-mother, we have grown to like these people a lot and as it was Easter I decided to make hand-made cards to them. I hoped to surprise them but it was at our surprise how enchanted they were. Sonja, Viktorija, Radmila and I spent two Tuesdays helping delivering meals and if we had had another Tuesday we would have gone again because we enjoyed helping these lovely people.


As they started their program with a line that is how I can finish this report about a program we were fascinated by.

“In 1972, we were only a vision ….”

I hope that something like this can be organized in our towns as well. It would involve a lot of people but we can hope that they are interested in doing something that can affect so many lives.

Each one of us has completed four hours of community service in this volunteer service.

2. Teen Court

The Teen Court programs offer youth a unique challenge and opportunity to demonstrate to adults and themselves their capacity for self-government and responsible citizenship.

It is a real court experience for the first offenders who have committed a minor crime and have admitted guilt. Their case is heard by the jury of their age and the entire staff included is teenagers. Volunteer youth take role of prosecuting and defense attorneys, clerks, bailiffs and jury. The judge is the only adult directly involved into the proceeding and it is usually a retired volunteer judge.

The purpose of this project is to prevent any further offences committed by children who, once in a court room, usually do not want to come again. The parents are also coordinating with the court therefore providing the maximum to the youth. This is a way of stopping young children to become future criminals.

Viktorija, Sonja and Radmila spent two Tuesdays at the Teen court and volunteered once as members of the jury. They were enthralled by this opportunity and reached a tough decision.

Before they do something more serious, these children have a chance to think through all their decisions before they reach Juvenile Court.

It would be nice to have this in our towns as a chance for our children who could do some volunteer work and help to bring their friend to the right track.

3. During our stay in Florida, we went to visit several schools. I have been to Manatee High School where I spent a day as a guest lecturer.

4. Manatee School for the Arts

We have also spent a day in Manatee School for the Arts, which is a public charter school i.e. an innovative public school that provides choices for families and greater accountability for results. This was the most enjoyable and the most personal experience for all of us.

As we were teaching one of our native dances, these enthusiastic young people kept coming wanting to learn and share experiences with us. We even hummed the tune of the song and the whole atmosphere was amazing and unique.

At the same school we visited a seventh grade Geography class, who were just starting to learn about Eastern Europe. I was a guest lecturer and spoke for almost an hour about various domestic issues and then we answered all the questions they had.

We have also been involved in some other activities such as YMCA, where Viktorija, Sonja and Radmila learnt how to help with children; they decorated the ballroom and some other facilities. They even cleaned the roads but the above mentioned are the most important and the most useful for us.

5. Leadership

As a part of our program we have had a seminar in Washington about leadership and confirmed what we have talked about in Budapest. These two seminars have been very useful.

However, as we were in Florida we had a lovely opportunity to meet a retired Col. Larry R. Burnette, my host-father, who teaches JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) at school. This very subject is closely connected to leadership. This subject teaches leadership skills, i.e. how to motivate others, they train leadership by having the participants lead. It builds confidence and character and it is one of the subjects that could be included into our country.

As we spent every day in his classroom we learnt the values of life and seeing him every day lead the students was a real exposure to leadership itself.




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