SoA in Serbia: Life-changing work in a geopolitically strategic country


I’m Colleen Denny, one of the newest members of the Spirit of America team. Prior to joining Spirit of America, I served in the Coast Guard, where my career focused on counter-narcotics and search-and-rescue missions in the Caribbean and Florida Straits. After completing my master’s degree at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), I joined the Development Team at Spirit of America.

I recently returned from a trip to Serbia, where Chris Clary and I visited our Serbia Project Manager John Cappello. For Chris, it was meaningful to him because he had previously managed Spirit of America’s Serbia projects in 2016. For me, it was incredibly powerful to gain field experience as well as witness firsthand the life-changing work that Spirit of America is doing in such a geopolitically strategic country.

Once landing in Serbia, we visited six locations in central and northern Serbia where Spirit of America has implemented over 50 projects alongside US troops and diplomats serving in Serbia. We were able to meet the people whose lives were changed by these projects, as well as visit potential and developing project sites.




Spirit of America’s John Cappello and I with a coach (left) and founder/player (center) of the Roma National Futbol Team of Serbia with some of the children at the drop-in shelter

One of the locations we visited that truly impacted me was a youth “drop-in shelter” that is run by the Centre for Youth Integration in Belgrade, Serbia. The mission of the shelter is to provide hope and opportunities for the Roma youth, who are an ostracized minority community in much of Europe. These kids have few Roma role models, and often don’t see a path out of the Roma settlements/slums, thus getting caught in the poverty cycle.

After identifying this problem, Spirit of America’s John Cappello connected the drop-in shelter with the founder of the National Roma Futbol Team of Serbia. The opportunity for the Roma children to interact with positive role models from their community is an effort to inspire them to remain in school while also addressing the helplessness and subsequent hopelessness that affects disenfranchised youth. Finally, Spirit of America’s work with the shelter and the National Roma Futbol Team further emphasizes that the United States is the foreign partner of choice for everyday citizens of Serbia.




Spirit of America not only linked the drop-in shelter with the Roma National Futbol Team of Serbia, but also provided soccer balls for the kids to play with

After spending four days in Serbia with John and Chris, I saw tangible evidence of how Serbian sentiment and attitudes toward the United States are changing. Just as importantly, I saw how this change is sustainable; John’s work to build support networks (such as introducing the drop-in shelter to the National Roma Futbol Team) will ensure that these changing perceptions and relationships last.




John Cappello playing soccer with three Roma kids outside the shelter

It is because of your support and involvement that Spirit of America is able to do projects in Serbia, which in turn bolster American national security. To read more about our work in Serbia and how you can get involved, click here.




Here I am with Maki, an outgoing and charming boy who drew pictures as his way to say thank you


Manager of Citizen-Military Partnerships

Colleen graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science and a commissioning in the US Coast Guard. During her time in service, she served on three ships earning over five years of sea time and also served as a military aide-de-camp. She operated primarily in Central America, the Caribbean, and the Florida Straits conducting counter-narcotics missions, search and rescue missions, and delivering humanitarian aid and relief.

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No endorsement of Spirit of America by the US Department of Defense, Department of State, or US personnel is intended or implied.