For most of us, Christmas is a time of celebration – an enjoyable holiday spent with family and friends. Sadly there are many for whom Christmas is an acute reminder of what they do not have, whether it is family, friends, material security or prospects. For those of us who are blessed with all these things it is good to make the effort to reach out to those who have not had the same opportunities as us.
A simple way of reaching out is through VIVACOM’s ‘Yellow Coins’ appeal, a national donation campaign which began in 2010. Its purpose is to gather funds for different social causes by providing everybody with the chance to participate by donating small amounts of money via text or through Vivacom’s network of stores. Vivacom match the small donation, effectively doubling the amount given.
One beneficiary of the ‘Yellow Coins’ appeal is the ‘House of Opportunity’ Programme. This works for the social development and integration of vulnerable and marginalised young people, including state-care leavers, homeless young people and those from broken families. The House of Opportunity Programme is being implemented by the ‘Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion’ and currently consists of five observed family-style homes throughout the country – Sofia, Gabrovo, Ruse, Burgas and Skravena. The young people can spend up to two years in the programme, during which social workers help them develop their social skills, be independent and, most importantly – find a job.
The ‘Yellow Coins’ appeal has been supporting the ‘House of Opportunity’ Programme since 2014. The appeal has successfully raised enough money for the establishment of a new House and for supporting the process of finding training positions and jobs for the young people.
The donation campaign continues to run through in-store donation boxes and via
SMS to 17 777 with text DMS DOM (1 BGN),
Phone call to 0 900 5 11 15 (1 BGN),
Bank transfer to account number IBAN BG26RZBB915510058740.
We took the chance to talk to Teodora Koleva, Executive Director of the ‘Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion’, about the ‘House of Opportunity’ Programme and the ‘Yellow Coins’ appeal.
Mrs. Koleva, when are the results of the ‘Yellow Coins’ Operation this year going to become known? After the holidays we will gather all the donation boxes from all over the country and calculate the amount, so we hope to have a total figure early in the New Year.
Do you have any statistics regarding the numbers of young people successfully supported by the ‘House of Opportunity’ Programme?
Yes, it is very important that we understand what happens to the young people that we are working with. We evaluate their development in different areas and in this way we can see when a young person is ready to graduate from the programme. We want to know that our programme is working for the young people and we continually develop the way in which we support them. We know that 70 % of the young people in the Programme have started work; 90 % have raised their level of social skills; over 60 % of them have adopted social skills at an independent level; around 67% have built positive relationships with the members of the local community; 100 % have preserved or improved their medical condition.
How is the ‘Yellow Coins’ Operation contributing to the development of the ‘House of Opportunity’ Programme?
I am really excited to see the way lots of small donations in the stores can make such a big difference for the young people with whom we work. I think that as individuals, we often fail to realise what can be achieved when we all unite in the name of a really good cause. In a few months, the donations from the campaign reached an amount large enough to buy an apartment in the capital – not just a simple shelter for six young people, but a place they can call home, where they will receive support on their way to independence and stable work. I am thankful to VIVACOM, that along with the financial support, the ‘Yellow Coins’ appeal also contributed to the creation of opportunities for the recruitment of the young people under the Programme. Our main objective is that every single young person who graduates from the Programme will be able to take care of themselves, be able to maintain a circle of friends, start their own family and, in the end, lead a dignified life. A good example of this is Yavor, who recently moved out independently to a rental place together with his girlfriend. They have both worked for more than a year at the same company. In addition to the working skills, they also established a stable and supporting relationship, which we hope will continue in the future.
There are five ‘Houses of Opportunity’ and another one is expected. How many such homes do you think the Programme should have?
When we started developing the Programme, we researched the number of young people who leave social institutions or other forms of care. It turned out that there are 200 young people who need support in that very important period of their lives. The number is scary, but in order provide a place for everybody who needs this sort of help we believe that at least another five homes will be necessary.
Apart from the donation boxes is there a way that people can support the cause?
Of course! On the ‘Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion’s’ Facebook page we regularly post information for our friends about current needs and campaigns. The most recent refers to the repair works and furnishing of the future ‘House of Opportunity’ in Sofia. We have a list of materials and furniture necessary for turning the apartment into a pleasant home for the new residents. Another way to support the cause is volunteering. We are thankful that more and more people get into contact with us to give their time, skills and enthusiasm. We are very active but we need the public’s help to realise all the projects that we have and that we want to develop. This includes the repair and furnishing of the apartment in Sofia, as well as related team activities. The main thing we are always looking for is employment opportunities for the young people. This is vital for their future security and we are thankful to any company owners and managers who give our young people the chance to find work and develop new skills.
Do you believe that the state could assist with legislative measures that would help with this kind of work?
I think that there are more things that the state could do to provide a better framework for partnering with the NGO sector in interventions in the continued exclusion of vulnerable people. Local authorities could be more active in the administration and management of the social services designated for vulnerable members of the community. If the bureaucracy was less that would really help to reduce the time-related costs to NGO’s, releasing money that would directly benefit projects and their beneficiaries.
* Mrs. Koleva has a more than ten years of experience in the non-governmental field with a focus on the social sphere. Her portfolio consists of a number of mid-term and long-term projects, work under health and social development programmes for vulnerable and marginalised communities and in the field of behavioural illnesses prevention. She holds a master degree in Clinical Psychology and Developmental Psychology at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. She is a consultant in organisational development and human resources management, a certified mediator by the Ministry of Justice and an external evaluator of projects under EU Operational Programmes in the social sphere.