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Jurate Kazickas, President of the Kazickas Family Foundation, wants to create a better world for Lithuanians

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Jurate Kazickas is shown as a four year-old child with her parents, Alexandra and Joseph Kazickas, en route to the USA. Photograph from the family archive of Alexandra and Joseph Kazickas. Reprinted from the book, "Odyssey of Hope" by Joseph Kazickas with Valdas Bartasevicius.

By Ann Charles, Baltic Review

Jurate Kazickas, an author and former journalist who covered the Vietnam War, is now the President of the largest private foundation in Lithuania, the Kazickas Family Foundation.

“Motivated by the wish to create a better world for both current and future generations of Lithuanians,” Jurate, who has offices in Vilnius and New York, is on a roll and there’s no stopping her now. 

Born in Lithuania, she arrived in the USA on February 18, 1947 as a four year-old child with her parents, Joseph and Alexandra Kazickas, aboard the S.S. Ernie Pyle. Following fifty years of Soviet occupation, the Baltic flags of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia finally flew over the United Nations for the very first time on September 17, 1991.

As noted in the book, “Odyssey of Hope” by Joseph Kazickas with Valdas Bartasevicius, which was edited by Jurate Kazickas, it tells ‘The Story of a Lithuanian Immigrant’s Escape from Communism to Freedom in America and the Return to his Beloved Homeland.’

Most recently, Jurate sat down with “The Baltic Review” to discuss the current and future goals and mission of the Kazickas Family Foundation in Lithuania, as well as the family’s newest book called “Viltes Kelias” (The Road of Hope), which is published in the Lithuanian language. 

The newest edition of “Viltes Kelias” (The Road of Hope) contains a collection of romantic love letters written to her mother, Alexandra, by her father, Joseph. As Jurate explained, the message of the book is to “express your love and not to be shy about it. Simply tell those you love, you love them.”  

It’s obvious that Jurate and the Kazickas Family Foundation have a great love for Lithuania too, and want to continue giving back to Lithuania and its future generations of young Lithuanians.

As Jurate added, “here in the United States, I feel very American, but when I go back to Lithuania, I feel my roots. My father felt that Lithuania had given him so much, and that he wanted to give back to the country.  And when I am back in Lithuania, I always try to bring back new ideas for Lithuania as well.”

One example of the Kazickas Family Foundation’s work in bringing back new ideas to Lithuania is the Youth Can Program, inspired by the NBA Youth Cares and Hoops 4 Hope (H4H) initiative that was started in Zimbabwe, and was later adapted in Lithuania by Peter Kazickas for The Kazickas Family Foundation.

Through the Youth Can Program, young Lithuanians are taught teamwork as they develop self-confidence and respect for others.  

From left to right: Ange Vertelkaite, KFF Director in Vilnius, Leva Mastenica with the Vilnius Marathon, Jurate Kazickas, President of the Kazickas Family Foundation, Leva Cernanskaite, a youth coordinator. This photo was taken in September at the 5 km Vilnius Marathon competition where for the first time, KFF had a team of girls running in a race, thus the Girl Power T-shirt.

 

The Youth Can program itself was launched in Lithuania about six months ago. “We used basketball to bring kids together in Lithuania and mentored them to become more self-reliant and to learn about social responsibility,” she says.

“We want our Lithuanian children to care about Lithuania too, as they are the future of our country,” she added. This is all in keeping with the mission of The Kazickas Family Foundation.

Jurate finds that most of the students in Lithuania are personable, hard-working, and they want to create a better world.  For example, through the Youth Can sports program, Lithuanian children are now learning they can achieve everything they dream about in life through participation in different sports, including basketball, football, volleyball, baseball and frisbee.

Solving problems such as alcoholism, suicide, bullying, and trafficking are also discussed in this program, as participants learn how to make friends through sports. 

Shown is Arminas Vareika, the director of “Jaonimas Gali/Youth Can”, the new Kazickas Family Foundation initiative to teach life skills and social responsibility to young people in small towns through sports. 

 

Nowadays, 30 coaches have taken on the responsibility through sports. Twice a year, these kids come together to participate in games and win awards. The Kazickas Family Foundation also encourages young people who want to work, whether they want to become a mechanic, a chef, or a programmer.

In discussing values, Jurate spoke compassionately of “thinking of others before you think of yourself.  We try to teach young people about teamwork, working together, and the importance of respecting each other,” she said.

Edith M. Lederer of The Associated Press at UN Headquarters in New York, mentioned her longtime friend and co-author, Jurate Kazickas to me. Edith co-authored the book “War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam” together with Jurate and seven other female journalists. The timing was perfect since my Lithuanian grandparents had emigrated from Lithuania over 100 years ago.  And in 2019, the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia celebrated 100 years of Restored Baltic Independence, and these celebrations are still going on.

Jurate, during our interview, addressed her concern that “Lithuania, like other European countries is experiencing a ‘brain drain’ and that means a declining population.  Yes, Lithuania is shrinking, and more and more young Lithuanians are leaving the country to study or work abroad. At the same time, some younger Lithuanians left behind are finding themselves more at risk because of drugs, drinking and broken homes.“

Giving back to Lithuania for the Kazickas Family Foundation is a long-standing family tradition. By example, Jurate’s mother, Alexandra Kalvenas Kazickas, showed her commitment to the preservation of the Lithuanian language for young people growing up in the United States by establishing the first heritage school on Long Island, New York. It was founded in 2006 and named Alexandra Kazickas Lithuanian Saturday School. (AKLS). AKLS works “to foster young American Lithuanians’ (immigrants or children of the immigrants) love for the Lithuanian language, traditions and culture, to encourage their love for Lithuania, to develop their creativity.”

In describing the long term aims of the Kazickas Family Foundation, here’s what Jurate had to say: “We aim to educate children about their rights and responsibilities, inform about prevention of child abuse and promote information about it, improve employee skills that directly or indirectly interact with project participation.”

In addition, she explained that the primary objective of the Youth Can Program, in particular, is to emphasize “the positive influence that sports can bring to the lives of young people, to use their talents to motivate and seek the best possible results, not only in sports, but in their personal lives.”

Among the many initiatives that the Kazickas Family Foundation have supported are Lithuania’s 100 Year Celebration of Independence which was kicked off at the JW Marriott Essex House Hotel in New York with the participation of Lithuanian diplomats such as the Lithuanian Consul General in New York, representatives of the European Union, the Permanent Representatives of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to the United Nations, members of Lithuanian non-governmental organizations, and others.

Over the years, the Kazickas Family Foundation has also supported special projects to restore historic buildings, funded Lithuanian exhibitions, sponsored festivals, helped cancer patients and supplied equipment/furniture from Versare to hospitals, while impacting the lives of many young Lithuanians along the way. In general, its focus has been on education, culture, the arts, social welfare, technology, and medicine not only in Lithuania and the United States, but in many other places around the world.

Outside of her current role as the President of the Kazickas Family Foundation, Jurate has remained extremely active in global refugee work, traveling extensively to and reporting from Vietnam to Bosnia to Afghanistan to Rwanda as a journalist. She has worked at The Associated Press in New York, covered the Carter White House, co-authored books on the history of American women and currently sits on several non-profit boards. Jurate also serves on the board of trustees of the Altman/Kazickas Foundation in New York where she lives with her husband, Roger Altman, and has raised three children.

Here is Jurate Kazickas with Sigita Pelickaite, a dance coach in Vilnius, and a volunteer for the Youth Can program at a Kazickas Family Foundation sporting event in January 2019.
Ann Charles
Ann Charles is UN Bureau Chief of "Baltic Review" based in New York City. She covers diplomatic activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and the world body's work in human rights, education, culture, the environment, and tourism, among other global concerns.

The UN observed a Moment of Silence for the late US President George H.W. Bush.

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