Bosnian refugee transformed from LSS client to LSS colleague
When Bojana Bozic moved to the U.S. from war-torn Bosnia, LSS was there to greet her and her family and help them transition to their new home. Today, as an LSS colleague, she has come full circle, helping others in need.
For many of us, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which raged from 1992 to 1995 after the breakup of Yugoslavia, is a distant footnote in history. But for LSS colleague Bojana Bozic, it’s why she immigrated to the United States in 2003 and where her path first crossed that of Lutheran Social Services.
Bojana was raised in Bosnia, and when she was five or six years of age, the civil war came right to her doorstep. Her home was burned down, and her family fled, moving often to remain safe. Her dad worked any job he could. Even as war-torn as their existence was, Bojana remembers her parents sheltered her and her twin brother and older sister from the desperate situation they were in. She didn’t realize how bad things were. What she did notice, however, was that her dad never smiled.
“When we were in Bosnia and later Serbia,” remembered Bojana, “my dad would come home, and he would be quiet and serious, and all I remember is we had to be quiet. He was stressed, depressed and worried.”
Her grandfather also lived with them, and his brother had emigrated to the United States earlier after losing his own son to the war. After several years, he applied to have other family members join him. He requested that Bojana’s entire family be allowed to come with her grandpa because they lived together, and the request was approved.
“We were told to go home and wait,” remembered Bojana. Thinking they would leave any day, she didn’t return to school, but the wait was longer than expected, and a year later, her family came to the U.S. Bojana was 15. They were greeted at the airport by their “Milwaukee” family and by case workers from LSS.
“When we came to the US, my dad started acting so different. He smiled all the time. I felt like I got my dad back.”
The LSS case workers were both Serbian, and they knew the Serbian language. “They introduced themselves and told us they would take us to all of our appointments,” recalled Bojana. “I didn’t remember the organization, but I remembered Lutheran in the name. They helped us get resources and benefits.”
They also assisted with the paperwork necessary to apply for Social Security benefits, food stamps and health insurance, and they also arranged for English language classes.
“We didn’t know English. Nothing. Not one word,” said Bojana. After just 10 days of living with their local extended family, her parents found an apartment close to their classes, and LSS provided furniture and dishes. After learning some basic English, her father quickly found work at Super Steel, a metals fabricator, where he continues to work today, and her mom at Eder Flag.
The children enrolled in school, and even though Bojana and her brother should have been juniors, her dad enrolled them as sophomores so they could learn English before starting college. Bojana’s outgoing personality and willingness to try communicating without fear of embarrassment helped her master the English language quickly. She went on to graduate from Alverno College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and crossed paths with LSS once again when she applied for a job.
“I got a call from Holly Rogers, who later became my supervisor. When she said 'LSS,' it didn’t ring a bell,” admitted Bojana. When Bojana came home with the news that she had been offered a job, her mom reminded her of the family’s connection to LSS.
Today, Bojana has come full circle – she is doing for others what was done for her and her family. She works as a service coordinator at Hampton Regency, a 120-unit independent-living facility for the elderly and those with disabilities in Butler, Wis. She coordinates many different services, including helping residents secure health insurance, Social Security, transportation to appointments, in-home care, medical devices and more.
“What I like best is I actually change someone’s life every day for the better,” said Bojana.
Most recently, Bojana was trained to be a case manager to help victims of human traffickers when they relocate to Milwaukee. “I know what it’s like to go somewhere and have to start over,” she explained.