Today we welcome Katja Kolenc and Samanta Hadžić Žavski of Celjski Mladinski Center, partnering with HRYO for “Spread the Game”.

So, Katja and Samanta, hi! Tell us a bit about yourselves. What led you to work in this field, how long have you been working with MCC and in what kind of position?

Samanta: Hi everyone! I studied comparative literature and literary theory – so not even remotely related to youth work. So how did I get here? After graduating, I applied for a job at a youth center because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in life. When I came in for an interview, the director asked me, where do I see myself in five years? I started listing a few different fields to her and at the same time I told her I did not know exactly what I wanted and she replied: “Here we all want to do something but we don’t know exactly what that is.”

That’s how I knew I was in the right place.

I have been employed at the youth center for about eight months as a project assistant, and what I like most is precisely this diversity of work. The youth worker does everything: they are a consultant, a lecturer, a journalist, and much more.

Katja: It has been a little over three years now since I became the head of the project department and general program at the youth center. I know this is the best job to have and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Like Samanta said, it is so diverse and it presents me with a lot of daily challenges and opportunities to meet new people, travel to different countries, and help youngsters be the best versions of themselves and to dream big of the possibilities they have and they can take advantage of.  I love concerts, dancing, and sports of any kind.

What is Celjski Mladinski Center and when was it established? In what kind of socio-economic context does it operate?

The Celje Youth Center is a public organization, established by the Municipality of Celje in 2005 with the aim of providing young people the space to socialize, have fun and gain knowledge in an non-formal setting. Essentially, we are there because of the young people. We want young people to come to us with the most creative and crazy ideas, and we are here to guide them and help them design projects and programs, to support their creativity and ideas. We want to present a safe space for young people where they can use their potential. Of course, we are also an educational institution and offer young people a range of activities and non-formal education that is unique and interesting addressing a variety of competencies an occasionally a really good concert 🙂

From a look at your website, MCC looks like a crossroads for cultures and youths from all paths of life to meet, thanks to the hostel. Can you tell us more about your experience with it?

Young people are our target group and our joy. We implemented many youth exchanges, in which we want to bring interesting topics closer to young people and equip them with new skills. But in doing so we were lacking the infrastructure, therefore we applied to the European Regional Development Fund and with that we built the Hostel MCC in 2009.
We wanted our inspiration for the hostel to be a little bit different, so we invited young Celje artists to participate, who artistically and conceptually furnished individual rooms based on urban myths and legends. Details from these rooms were included in all rooms in various ways to present the history of our city through stories to honor important local personalities and events.

Surely you have always wanted to fall asleep with restless fish on the glistening surface of the lake, mark the room where you spent your best vacation with graffiti, dress up as a real ninja and breathe in the spirit of the socialist past, or know who the hell Alfred Nobel is: In Celje, MCC HOSTEL offers all this and more!

Wow, the hostel really sounds like a great place to meet all kinds of cool, creative people! Now please, tell us more about the organization’s accomplishments and how it has improved the lives of young people on a local level.

We are one of several bigger youth centers in Slovenia that are really project-oriented for providing the youth with international mobility and experiences. Yearly, we provide over 80 young people the chance to participate in diverse youth exchanges and voluntary projects.
The opportunities that we provide for them, either in international projects or daily activities, are our best accomplishments, and we count as our great success the joy of the youths that come to the youth center just to hang out with us.
In addition, we are an organization that is very much involved in the local community with solidarity projects that enhance the local quality of life of all generations. We have a sixteen year-long tradition of preparing the Festival of Volunteers: they are an integral part of our community and celebrating them each year is important. We also have several special festivals and events that have been part of us for long and are much anticipated each year.

Katja: And for me personally, the co-workers and the atmosphere we have among each other and with the youth is the best and gives me the motivation to do even more and better.

Since working with MCC, was there any specific time that the result of the organization’s work touched you deeply?

Katja: Yes, it did. For me, it was the first time I sent a group of youngsters to their first youth exchange ever. All of them had no prior experience and I remember checking on them through messenger to find out where they were, how they were doing and if anything was okay. And they had a great time and a great experience.

This was in 2017.

Two years later, one of the girls from the youth exchange saw me on vacation in a different country and we had a great time talking to catch up, and she told me how much she appreciated that I motivated and pushed her a bit to take part in the youth exchange. Since then, she’s been a girl that takes chances and she’s always seeking adventures and opportunities.
That she told me how much it meant to her that I insisted, in a sense, for her to take the first step means a lot to me. Sometimes we do not know how much impact we can have in someone else’s life.

Now, you are partnering with us and some other great organizations in a new project called “Spread the Game”. So what do you think MCC can bring to the table when it comes to this specific project and why did you want to take part in it?

The Celje Youth Center will bring in the project methodologies and practices daily used in our activities. Our motivation in participating in projects like “Spread the game” is to share our practices and experiences, and also to learn from others for us youth workers to be better and to provide the best activities to our youngsters. It is also a great opportunity to meet and be inspired by other experts.

That’s a very good reason to join the project, indeed. And how do you hope to improve your organization and its work through this experience with “Spread the Game”?

We hope to upgrade and deepen our knowledge in the field of working with young people with fewer opportunities, and to emerge from this project through successful cooperation with a new network of partners, from whom we will be happy to learn.

And we will be happy to keep working with you at MCC, and to learn with and from you and our other partners.

Thank you very much for this conversation, hopefully we will all be able to meet soon at your lovely MCC Hostel to celebrate together the success of our network!

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