I launched this blog over a year ago to tell more stories and encourage more people, more frequently. In the coming months, I will invite colleagues and generally people I admire to tell personal stories and use their voice on this platform.
Maya Angelo once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I’ve spent the better part of the last decade sharing what I believe is a story about perseverance and hope with anyone who will listen. I share my story because I believe that in stories people find the will, if only wrapped in a nugget, to keep pushing themselves and to keep fighting. The alternative to the push and the fight is submission. I acknowledge that faith is a cornerstone of my life, but this is not the submission that I am talking about. To submit to the will of the world is to douse any bit of dormant passion with flame retardant. Thank the heavens for those who believe that we can do better, who work for life to be better and who share the lessons they’ve learned to encourage us all. I’m happy to share the story of one of those people with you today.
Meet Jasmina (Mina) Hadzialic. Mina is a Relationship Manager for United Way of Greater St. Louis. This month, she celebrates 19 years in the United States.
In September of 1997, 19 years ago this month, my world as I knew it ceased to exist. I was a 12-year-old child, attempting to live a normal life in the war-torn country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into years of no electricity, food or water. This was a new normal for many of the families who chose to stay in Bosnia during the war. Four years prior to this, my father escaped the prosecution in 1993 under false papers and went into hiding in Belgrade, Serbia. My mother received a letter in the summer of 1997, informing her that my father was alive, that he had escaped and re-settled in St. Louis, Missouri, which is what brought me to the community I live in today.
In September of 1997, my mother and I were secretly placed into a combat bus that took us to Vienna, Austria. We traveled 20 hours to Vienna, where we got on a plane for Chicago, IL. Eventually, we made it to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. When we arrived, both my father and an employee of International Institute were waiting for us at the arriving gate. International Institute, a United Way partner agency, found my father a one bedroom apartment in south city. They worked with Catholic Charities, another United Way partner agency, to help my father furnish the apartment. The employee of International Institute who met us at the airport took us to our new home, and informed us that someone from the Institute would come back the following day. I will never forget the day that I was taken to the International Institute building for the first time. It was the day that I knew I belonged here. I walked into the agency, only to see other Bosnian refugees welcoming us with open arms. I received my school shots at the International Institute, my parents took English classes there, and my father passed his U.S. citizenship test there in 2000.
In September of 1997, at age 12, I did not know what United Way was. However, I did know that International Institute made me feel welcome in the St. Louis community. My roots were planted in this community that year. I chose to never leave; I spent my high school and college years in St. Louis. I decided to work in non-profit so I can help other people who need it, the same way I was helped years ago. I was once on the receiving end, and now I am blessed to be on the giving end. This city never ceases to amaze me. As a community, we’ve been tried many times, but we have always conquered the challenges. The people of the St. Louis community are the reason why I, and 70,000 other Bosnians, call this place home; so thank you for giving us a chance to have a future once again.