An Exclusive Discussion with Jelena Gašpar: The Determined Pillar behind Croatia’s Longest-Running Youth Program

Jelena Gašpar – SKAC Palma

We bring you an insightful interview with Jelena Gašpar, the driving force behind SKAC’s campaign to acquire a new van tailored to the organization’s specific needs. Discover the passion, dedication, and purpose behind this initiative as Jelena shares her vision and the impact a new van can make for SKAC and its mission.

Can you tell us more about SKAC Palma and the work that your association has been doing for young people in Croatia for over 20 years? What are some of the key activities and programs?

SKAC Palma (Croatian abbreviation of Student Catholic Center) is an association founded by Father Luka Rađa SJ in 2001. Jesuit spirituality is the backbone of all programs and activities we conduct for young people. Through spiritual and educational programs, creative workshops, volunteering, and relationship building, we enable the young to grow, learn new skills, recognize their talents, and develop their spiritual identity. Spiritual exercises in everyday life, 3D formation, workshops covering the topics of time management, decision-making, handling emotions, and different kinds of experiments are our most common programs. SKAC is also the founder of the first and longest-running summer youth program in Croatia, Modrave. This summer, we are pitching Modrave tents for the 20th year in a row. More than 7,600 young people so far have spent their summer with God on this beautiful and wild peninsula, and 1100 of them were volunteers!

How do you measure the success and effectiveness of the programs and activities you organize?

At the end of each program, we conduct standardized evaluation questionnaires. Also, on a weekly basis, we hold supervisory meetings with the volunteers who participate in the implementation of the programs, through which we monitor the progress of both participants and volunteers. In most of our programs, participants write weekly reviews or come to weekly group or individual meetings, in which we regularly review the previous week. All these methods help the participants monitor their own growth, and they give us insight into how to adapt our work to the needs of individuals and in which ways we can be of more help to them. (SKAC Palma)

Are there any plans to expand the scope or geographical reach of SKAC Palma’s work in the future?

Our mission number one is to meet the needs of the population we are committed to in Zagreb and its surrounding area. But some of our programs, like 3D Formation, are already spread throughout Croatia. Having that in mind, it is important for us to stay connected with the teams from other Croatian cities and share experiences, challenges, solutions, and plans. We communicate on a regular basis, and at the end of every year, we organize a national gathering to work together on further program development and improvements. For the past few months, we have been developing a plan for online programs of spiritual exercises, formation, 3D formation, etc. We want to reach the parts of Croatia where there is no youth ministry and enable those who can’t come to Zagreb to participate in our programs online. We already mentioned that SKAC was founded by Jesuits. Jesuits in Croatian province live in different places, and they have different assignments. When located in Zagreb, some of them are highly involved in all our programs and activities. Once they move to another city or country, they continue with the same activities in a new environment. This time with a new team of associates and for a new group of young people. The formation of our volunteer teams remains joint to maintain the initial project aim. We are also in touch with international Jesuit associations. Thanks to international Jesuit cooperation, this year three of our employees participated in a youth ministry conference held in the Philippines. We delivered the workshop for more than 50 participants from Asia and presented how we work with young people.

Can you share any inspiring stories of personal growth or transformation resulting from the engagement with SKAC Palma?

There are numerous inspiring stories born at SKAC. From love stories and marriages to vocations and career changes, SKAC is a place where people form and grow. They open themselves to Divine Providence and find the inspiration to change their lives. One example is Ivona and Tomislav Bišćan, who meet at SKAC. They both volunteered for years at Modrave, and then they went to the Magis program in Brazil and fell in love with each other. A few months later, they got married, and today they have four children. Ignatian spirituality and experiences they got at SKAC drive them in everyday life. Another example is Father Hrvoje Mravak, who came to Modrave as a participant twenty years ago. He then decided to get involved in the program as a volunteer. In 2006, he coordinated the whole program, and that was the year when he discovered his vocation. Today, he is a Jesuit happy to serve as a priest at Modrave and other SKAC programs. And there are many stories like this showing how SKAC has been transforming people’s lives for the better since 2001.

Jelena Gašpar

Through the international crowdfunding platform Bona Fides Invest, you launched a campaign to buy a van. Why is it crucial for SKAC Palma to have a new van? How will it enhance your ability to carry out your activities and programs effectively? How can citizens support the crowdfunding campaign?

Without the van, we are unable to conduct most of our programs. We are based in Zagreb, but our programs are held in different places, from Sljeme and Kravarsko to Modrave. During the whole year, we organize programs and workshops that last for a weekend or even a whole week. In 2022, we will have organized 151 activities for young people! We will use Modrave as an example to show why it is crucial for us to have a new van. Imagine you are going for a week to the wild peninsula, where you must welcome 25 people and make sure they have food, water, working materials, and other necessities. You have a team of 8 people helping you with the organization. How will you get there? How are you going to transport all the things needed to conduct the program? One smaller car couldn’t fit even a third of all the things we need. So, it is much easier and more cost-effective to use a van instead of two, three, or more passenger cars. The scenario is, more or less, the same in every location we go to. Therefore, we need a new van to be able to continue with our activities and programs. You can support us on the Bona Fides Invest platform or get in touch if you want to give us a different kind of push in this campaign. We will appreciate all the help we can get in the process!

SKAC Palma – Support the longest-running youth program in Croatia

Have you considered any other funding sources or partnerships apart from crowdfunding to secure the necessary funds for a new van?

In addition to the campaign on the crowdfunding platform, we have applied for the Loyola Foundation tender to raise funds for our new van. Also, we have contacted numerous companies and private individuals and sent them requests for donations. Many of them have already supported us, financially or by donating, for example, the insurance policy for the van once we buy it.

Apart from the need for a new van, are there any other challenges or obstacles that SKAC Palma currently faces in fulfilling its mission?

SKAC is in the center of Zagreb, next to the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus. In 2020, the city was hit by the strongest earthquake in the last 140 years. The Basilica and several surrounding buildings were significantly damaged. Since then, we have practically been working on the construction site. The meeting hall that we used for our programs is now a liturgical space. We don’t have enough adequate space, so we need to adapt and do our best in the limited capacities we now have at our disposal. Also, since we are in the city center, the location is not so easily accessible to everyone; the parking is very expensive and hard to find. Thank God, our volunteers and program participants are modest and flexible. We are constantly trying to overcome these obstacles and find solutions to ensure that our mission is fulfilled.

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