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Living the Golden Rule : Project Gives Once-Homeless Girl Scout a Chance to Help Others

November 25, 1999|KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PANORAMA CITY — Bojana Zdraljevic fled with her family to the United States in 1991, only days before civil war broke out in Yugoslavia.

Soon after her arrival here, Zdraljevic joined the Girl Scouts and became part of a nurturing group that she said is like a second family.

Now 18 and a senior at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, she's president of her troop and working to complete requirements for a Gold Award, Girl Scouting's highest honor achieved by community service.

For her project, Zdraljevic said she wanted to do something for the homeless because she was once homeless herself.

"I wanted to show the homeless community that there are people who want to help," she said, "and that there are people who want to do something other than to benefit themselves."

Zdraljevic wanted to do something other than serving food or collecting blankets, something different.

"Everyone uses toiletries," she said, "but no one ever thinks about the homeless needing them too."

Demonstrating success in her quest, Zdraljevic distributed 150 toiletry kits to the homeless Wednesday at the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission's Thanksgiving banquet in Panorama City.

"She really has a soft spot for people who don't have the necessities," said troop leader Lois Young. "She feels so bad for people who don't have what she has. She really has a sense of values."

Last month, Zdraljevic approached managers at the Hilton Woodland Hills and asked them to donate personal-size shampoo and lotion. She also asked several Girl Scout leaders to get their individual troops involved.

Soon, Zdraljevic found herself awash in toiletries. Her bedroom in the Reseda apartment she shares with her parents and two younger brothers was filled with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sewing kits, shaving cream, disposable razors, wipes and deodorant.

Zdraljevic said she spent hours sorting through the items, placing them in shopping bags donated by Robinsons-May and Macy's and then loading them into boxes contributed by U-Haul.

With the items collected and sorted, Zdraljevic said she had to find a way to get them into the hands of the homeless.

A newspaper ad provided the answer.

"I was looking through the newspaper when I saw an ad asking people to donate money to feed the homeless," she said.

Zdraljevic called the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission and was gratified when officials said she could distribute the toiletries at Wednesday's luncheon.

In addition to the toiletries, Zdraljevic collected several stuffed toys she planned to give to homeless children.

"This will really help the homeless because they don't have the money to go out and buy toiletries," said Gail Ferber, volunteer coordinator for the Rescue Mission.

"Homeless people often go into gas station and bus station restrooms to shampoo their hair or brush their teeth," she added. "This gives them the bare essentials to maintain some sort of health standard."

Sava Zdraljevic, Bojana's father, said he is proud of his daughter's efforts.

"It's a great project, especially coming from someone who experienced a tough beginning," he said.

The hard times began in 1991 when the family fled Yugoslavia in the days leading up to the civil conflict there. They first went to Glendale, where Sava's American-born wife, Mary Beth, had family with an apartment.

Arriving with only the clothes on their backs, the family began to rebuild. Sava Zdraljevic said his daughter's desire to help the underprivileged is rooted in this early life-changing experience.

For Bojana Zdraljevic, extending a hand to others is her way of repaying the help she once received.

"I know it's not a big thing," she said. "I don't expect them to give me a parade. It's something, and I hope it's appreciated."

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