“My KEC internship is how I knew I was on the right academic and professional path,” said Marijana a fourth year psychology student at Singidunum University. After almost four years of studying psychology Marijana wasn’t certain how she would put all her theoretical knowledge to use or if it even had any practical application. That changed when she began her six months internship at KEC. She was one of more than the 200 hundred Singidunum students finishing degrees in psychology and social work who have interned at KEC over the past seven years. For a minimum of 40 hours students come to KEC to see for the first time what it will be like to put their academic knowledge to work. Working alongside KEC staff these students have the opportunity to develop and implement their own programming. “KEC gave me my first chance to work with people with various intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Ana a fourth year social work student, “but what was most meaningful was when I saw that my work made an impact on the beneficiaries.”
In addition to creating and implementing programs the interns are provided with supervision from the KEC professional staff. In the warm and friendly environment of the KEC center the interns get feedback and guidance from the experienced professional team. Interns are also taught how to navigate the bureaucratic and administrative elements of working and running a center of this nature. As Marijana, Ana and the other interns enter the workforce this internship will have provided them with the skills to easily integrate into any workplace in this field. One common remark from all the internship alumni is that after their time at KEC they feel much more confident about their ability to find a job and how they will perform once they have one.
KEC is excited that over the past seven years it has been so closely involved in helping shape and inspire future professionals in the social service fields. This new generation of teachers, psychologists and social workers are the ones who will serve our beneficiaries for the next decades and we are honored to have a role in helping them grow.
Your continued support enables this and all of KEC’s other programming.
The winter holidays are behind us but we wanted to take a minute to reflect on all the individuals and organizations that pulled together once again to help us ensure that each of our beneficiaries had a small bit of cheer during the holiday season. Many of our beneficiaries do not have family, some are even homeless and of those who are at home with family most live in very difficult socio-economic conditions. So most of our beneficiaries do not get presents on the holidays.
With that in mind every year KEC gives itself the mission to make sure that every beneficiary gets a holiday present. Considering our limited resources our last resort is to buy the presents ourselves. Instead, weeks before the holidays KEC staff starts contacting individual donors, donor organizations and companies to see if they have something to donate to our “present fund”. Our partners range from large NGOs to local citizens. Many times the answer is “No” but the KEC staff keeps asking until it is sure that it has collected enough items for all of our beneficiaries to get a package.
Then the hard part begins. In the midst of the holiday madness that takes over the city our staff and volunteers must run from place to place to collect the boxes of cookies, winter clothes, toys, or pre-packaged presents. As the center fills up with all these treats the excitement builds. Finally, the day arrives when the packages are handed out and all the smiling faces make the weeks of effort worthwhile.
With the last of the holiday decorations put away, we wanted to thank all of you who helped out by making a donation, driving around to pick up the donations or helping us package them up. The joy that comes in those boxes goes a long way to making sure our beneficiaries feel safe, happy and loved. Regardless of whether they live on the streets, alone or with their own family members they all know that they have the KEC family with them.
From all of us at KEC we wish you a healthy and happy 2022.
As you know, one of KEC’s main missions is finding employment for people with intellectual and mental disabilities. KEC aims to place each of our beneficiaries in an engaging and dynamic work environment. Through the years we have developed remarkably fruitful relationships with many local companies, institutions and organizations. On-boarding and supporting employees with special needs is not always an easy process but our partners are as committed as we are to giving each individual a chance to contribute to her society.
One of our most successful partnerships has been with the Hyatt Hotel of Belgrade. KEC first started collaboration with the international hotel in the early 2000s and the relationship has continued to grow in the decades that followed. When we first worked together on the Hyatt’s Christmas tree decoration program, we had no idea how this relationship would develop. Then we were given a bare tree and our beneficiaries decked it out with creative decorations. Today decades later, two KEC beneficiaries, Kaca and Jelena, are employed at the Hyatt, Hyatt employees volunteer in our center and Hyatt International even recognized this powerful relationship with one of it is community grants. At one point, 8 KEC beneficiaries were engaged in various tasks at the hotel through our work engagement program. In 2020, Kaca and Jelena met all the criteria and were hired as full-fledged hotel employees. KEC is grateful to Hyatt for its partnership and its commitment to building stronger communities in the places where it works.
It is only with partners like Hyatt, and supporters like you, that KEC is able to able to continue its work on behalf of people with intellectual and mental disabilities.
Just like all of you, we at KEC are eager to leave our COVID induced small environments and start getting back into the larger world. Our beneficiaries and their families are impatient to once again experience the freedom of moving around and the joy and security of the KEC center. But we remain fully aware that while the crisis is hopefully ebbing we must remain vigilant in our measures.
While severe COVID restrictions were in place KEC developed an online program to work with more than 80 of our beneficiaries individually and in groups. These psycho-social activities kept us in touch with our users and allowed us to offer additional support where needed. Despite these efforts our beneficiaries really just wanted to see each other and to experience the KEC center “in real life”. Their patience has paid off.
With the lifting of restrictions we have started holding regular activities in the center except in smaller groups and for shorter time periods. Our beneficiaries are happy to be reunited with their friends and to once again be busy with KEC activities. Each day small groups of beneficiaries come to the center for two hour educational programs run by our team of professionals.
In an effort to gradually re-open the center one of our first group activities was to take advantage of the nicer weather and organize regular walks around town. One of the most interesting of these outings was to the newly erected statue of Stefan Nemanja. This enormous statue was unveiled during the height of the restrictions so this was the first chance for most of our beneficiaries to experience it first hand.
Through this outing and others like it our beneficiaries got to see how the world changed a little while they were sheltering in place (a new statue) and how in some ways nothing had changed (KEC friends).
We at KEC hope that all of you are also once again experiencing the joys of the world that has been closed off for the past few months. We hope you get a chance to notice some of the things that have changed in the world but also appreciate the things that remained the same.
Thanks for your on-going support to our programming. Your support and good wishes have helped us endure this hard period.
Luka, 25 years old, is grateful that he found KEC before the Corona virus hit. After finishing an inclusive secondary school program with training to be a masseur Luka found himself at home for years with no prospects for work or to socialize with peers. In the fall of 2019 his mom, Snezana, brought him to see KEC. There he managed to find everything that was missing in one place—friends, work and a place to learn.
Right away he made new friends and actively participated in workshops, activities and outings. His friend Marija says: “Luka is such a good friend. He always wants to help me. When I need it and even when I don’t. I like that when he saw M. pushing Z. around he stuck up for her and told M. to stop.”
Aleksandra, a KEC staff member says that: “working with Luka is a true reminder of why I choose this profession and the good that can come from it.” She says that although Luka is shy he wanted to be able to improve his public speaking skills. With her help he made a presentation about his work assembling PR materials to a group of professionals participating in a training program. “We were all impressed by his confidence, the quality of his presentation and most of all by his pride in his work. It was obvious that during his short time at KEC he had gained new skills and was excited about these new opportunities. As a professional seeing this transformation it is what makes me feel most fulfilled.” In addition to assembling PR materials, Luka works as a masseur, helps clean the center and takes care of the plants. After a few months of training and monitoring, the KEC team decided that Luka was ready for employment. In January 2020 Luka fulfilled one of his dreams and got his first paycheck from his first job.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 changed all of our lives and plans. Because of social distancing measures Luka can’t do his work as we had planned but he used this time to finish a massage course and to help out in the center whenever there was a need. Most importantly he managed to stay in touch with his new friends during this difficult period. He made it to KEC just in time!
We are all looking forward to the end of this period so that KEC can return to full operations and welcome Luka and his friends back to the center soon!
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