In 2008, the recession in Serbia meant both companies and the Serbian government cut their funding to Special Olympics. At that time, Special Olympics Serbia was serving over 10,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics Serbia was able to hold their planned events that year but applied for Christmas Records Grant funds to help move new programs forward.
" I recognize in [Special Olympics athletes] the same joy, passion, and drive to reach your personal best that I had when I started to play."
In 2009, Special Olympics Serbia received a $45,000 Christmas Records Grant. The Program has received Christmas Records Grants every year since then. This has allowed Special Olympics to offer new and expanded programs in Serbia.
The Program introduced volleyball in 2011, with the coaching help of famous volleyball player and Olympic medalist Vladmir “Vanja” Grbic. Mr. Grbic was overwhelmed by the ability of the Special Olympics athletes and the athletes were thrilled to have such a sports legend helping them learn the game. Inspired by the athletes, Mr. Grbic remains involved with Special Olympics Serbia and recently became the global Volleyball Ambassador for Special Olympics. He said, “I recognize in [Special Olympics athletes] the same joy, passion, and drive to reach your personal best that I had when I started to play.”
Over the years, Special Olympics Serbia has given athletes the opportunity to go to many international events. Special Olympics Serbia has run these programs on a small budget while also gaining national media attention. For the first time in 2011 national media showed the Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremonies where a Serbian athlete carried a flag. Without the help of the Christmas Records Grants, Special Olympics Serbia would not be able to provide so many opportunities to people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics Serbia holds national games every year.
Special Olympics Serbia has run two USAID-supported projects: the first developed youth Unified Sports and the second to develop inclusive youth activation. In both areas, Special Olympics Serbia has become a regional leader in the youth sector.
While the efforts of Special
Olympics Serbia’s staff and the partnerships of all-star athletes are great,
the real heroes are the Special Olympics athletes. As the Mayor of Pirot said
at a Unified Sports basketball tournament, Special Olympics athletes “are in
the same league” as the sporting greats in Serbia.