Dr. Zlata Kovacevic is successful by any standard. She is a licensed social worker with a master’s degree from Arizona State University School of Social Work. She has her doctorate in behavioral health from ASU College of Health Solutions. She is also an adjunct professor at ASU School of Social Work and at Ottawa University.
Dr. Zlata uses these credentials as the community liaison for immigrant and refugee students at Washington Elementary school district. In this role, she draws on her own experience being a refugee thrust into a new country and new language to help students who are now in the same situation she was many years ago.
Bosnian Refugee Comes to Arizona
Twenty years ago, Dr. Zlata’s husband came to the United States (U.S.) as a refugee from Bosnia. She stayed behind in Serbia, with their children until they could all be together. After working hard to get their family together, Dr. Zlata's family was given permission to be reunited.
Tragedy struck, her husband had a heart attack and died the day before the family arrived. Dr. Zlata and her children were now alone, except for the support of staff and volunteers at Catholic Charities refugee resettlement program. “They built a circle of support around me and my kids,” said Dr. Zlata.
Refugee Family Perseveres
Catholic Charities rallied behind the family. Not only did they have to deal with the loss of a husband and father but also the loss of their old life amid the uncertainty of the new.
There were many challenges over their first year, but their family persevered. “With help from my community, and help from Catholic Charities we succeeded, and that is why I’m happy today,” said Dr. Zlata.
Dr. Zlata’s success extends to her daughters as well. Both of her daughters are grown up and have become lawyers. She also has two grandchildren who bring big smiles to their family.
Dr. Zlata also finds joy in her work helping other refugees. She works closely with students, their families, teachers and other community partners like Catholic Charities to make their transition as smooth as possible. Dr. Zlata plans to continue her work with no plans for retirement.
“I really feel good to have the opportunity to change someone’s life and to help someone in the situation I was in 20 years ago,” said Dr. Zlata. “I’m using my experience and what I needed to know to work with the refugee population.”