Prince Alexander and Princess Katherine attend banquet at Serbian Social Center
by Katie Arvia
LANSING, Ill. (June 24, 2019) – It’s not every day that royalty visits Lansing. On June 14, Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia visited St. Archangel Michael Orthodox Church and the Serbian Social Center. They were guests of honor at a banquet recognizing two major milestones: HRH Katherine’s humanitarian organization Lifeline celebrated 25 years of service, and the Three Kolos (the Serbian women’s group sponsoring the event) marked 10 years of working with and donating to Lifeline’s efforts.
The June 14 banquet at the Serbian Social Center was held to raise both funds and awareness and featured food, music, dance performances, and a silent auction.
The need for a Lifeline
Lifeline was founded in 1993 by Princess Katherine, who credits her parents with teaching her selflessness: “I was very lucky that I had parents who taught me the joy of giving, not the joy of taking. My parents were big philanthropists; my father was one of the biggest philanthropists in Greece, so I grew up in a home where we thought of others, not ourselves,” she said. The organization has satellite offices in Chicago, New York, London, Toronto, and Athens.
After a war left Serbia in disarray during the 1990s, social services suffered greatly. “[Serbia is] still feeling that effect today. The governmental institutions are recovering, the economy is improving, but still…social services are always in need of assistance,” explained current Lifeline Chicago President Milena Tatic Bajich.
For the past 25 years, Lifeline has been working to provide aid to orphanages, schools, elderly homes, shelters, and institutions across the country. The Three Kolos, made up of women from Lansing and Joliet, have taken on numerous projects over the past decade to further Lifeline and their mission. This past year alone, the group has contributed to over ten unique projects, including an adult shelter, a monastery, and several orphanages.
The group donated food, skin care products, diapers, toys, and more. They also finished Project “Blinds,” which replaced window coverings at a Belgrade orphanage that houses over 250 children.
Bajich described the Three Kolos as “phenomenal” and cited their tireless efforts to give back to the Serbian people. “They’ve just been so instrumental in raising funds during the course of the year,” she said. “They fed 300 families in Kosovo…. They were able to create a life for some children that otherwise could not be fed. They’ve worked really hard.”
Mileva Gvojic, who has attended St. Archangel Michael church for her entire life and is the President and dance teacher of the Lansing Folklore Group “Kolo,” said, “It’s an honor to be able to give back to the community I grew up in. I think it’s extremely important to give to those in need and less fortunate than you. I’m a huge advocate for children’s rights and wellbeing, so this event is extremely important to me.”
Despite the incredible work both groups have done, sending supplies to Serbia is not always an easy task. Debbie Keen, who has been involved with the Three Kolos since 2014, explained that in order to ensure that donations have the greatest impact in Serbia, they accept only monetary contributions, which are then sent to Lifeline, which works directly with organizations who are providing for people’s needs.
“I just think it’s such a good organization that does so many good things,” Keen said. “We have the best women that give their time [and] their money. This is very dear to my heart; I always get choked up because we do a lot of good for a lot of kids…. We don’t fix the world, but we try.”
Princess Katherine shares that sentiment. Her husband, Prince Alexander, described her as having “child-itis,” while others have described her as very hands-on and dedicated to Lifeline’s cause.
An Easter miracle
Princess Katherine shares the story of two young lives that were changed through the work of Lifeline. It happened about 18 years ago around Eastertime, at an event where over 1,000 orphans were in attendance.
“The children were out egg hunting for Easter. They came back in and all of a sudden, we heard screaming between two children—a little boy who was 8, and a little girl who was 6. It was a brother and sister who were separated by mistake during the war. They found each other in the middle of the room,” said the princess.
After the children were reunited, the minister of social services promised Princess Katherine that they would stay together, calling their reunion an act of God. Princess Katherine said that is something she will never forget.
Help, respect, and scholarships
Lifeline’s efforts help not only Serbian children. Thanks to a donation of $500,000 from the New York chapter, the organization was able to provide a digital mammography machine, which helped provide exams to over 100,000 Serbian women.
“We need to have more care for one another. You don’t have to know the person’s name, you don’t have to know who they are—it doesn’t matter. If they’re in front of you, you make it your responsibility to do whatever you have to do to take care of them,” Princess Katherine said.
“I think charity is important to help others in need,” HRH Prince Alexander agreed. “Our country needs a lot of help—our hospitals, our orphanages, our refugees. …I’m very proud of my wife and Lifeline Chicago and all the other Lifelines for what they do to help everybody. They help everybody, regardless of religion or ethnic origin. It’s very important to respect everyone.”
In addition to their work with Lifeline, Prince Alexander is also very dedicated to education. Every year, he hosts a reception for Serbian students who have the top grades in their high schools.
“It’s very popular. The grades are very high,” Prince Alexander said. “I award them gifts and recognition and certificates. It’s quite spectacular.” Prince Alexander is also involved with one of his alma maters, Culver Military Academy, and sponsors a scholarship for Culver students.
The banquet, attended by nearly 200 guests, was a great success for both the Three Kolos and Lifeline Chicago. As Bajich said, “The work that we do is so much more far-reaching than the simple [act of] sending pajamas and gym shoes and clothing. We give hope.”
If you are interested in donating time or money to the Three Kolos group efforts, contact Debbie Keen at [email protected].
To learn more about Lifeline, visit www.lifelinechicago.com.