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Happy 15th Anniversary, Last Bell!

On our 15th anniversary (wow!), we’re looking back at 15 years of guidance from God, help from compassionate friends, and the growth of a beautiful community of orphanage graduates! This photo from 2006 includes youth, early staff members, friends from other ministries, and one founding board member. Even before the Shelter opened, Last Bell relationships were beginning. See any familiar faces?


2007 was a big year for Last Bell! We officially opened the doors of the Shelter, which for fourteen years has welcomed orphaned youth in many wonderful ways. We also hired Andrey (now Director Andrey) Pankyeyev and Oksana Pankyeyeva. And it was our first year of camp!


Last Bell was named after “last bell” ceremonies like this one at the end of the Ukrainian schoolyear. For orphans, the final last bell ceremony means aging out into a scary and unpredictable world with no support system. By 2008, Last Bell was consistently serving the graduates of the city orphanage and making sure youth knew they would not be alone after graduation.


In 2009, we took youth on this first “family vacation” (youth camp). We also added staff and a second small drop-in location to accommodate the many young people aging out of the city orphanage. Activities at both locations included Bible Study, English tutoring, independent living skills lessons, and shared meals. On the US side, we received the long-awaited 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, retroactive to 2006.


By 2010, a handful of our youth were moms. Without family support, these young moms needed a lot of practical help and parenting advice. We casually called this ministry “moms and babies,” which later became Stop the Cycle. A recent Stop the Cycle meeting was attended by 58 moms, 92 kids, and several dads!


2011 was a year of building relationships with youth and our community, and planning for the future. Our staff taught life skills lessons right in the city orphanage. And we began planning renovation on the Shelter building for residential care. So many of our youth needed housing!


2012 was another big year! In January, we opened the doors of our first Support Center, home to staff offices, legal help, and counseling. Then, the city orphanage (known as Orphanage #4) closed, and kids were moved to regional orphanages. Our intrepid staff, determined to keep meeting and mentoring new youth, began the work that would later become Educational Outreach. And the Shelter got a makeover!


In 2013, renovation was finally finished, and the Shelter became a residential facility. For the first three years, it was occupied by house parents and many recent orphanage graduates; later it would become crisis housing, primarily for Stop the Cycle moms. We’re so thankful for this warm, welcoming home – provided by the generosity of God’s people – where so many orphaned youth and moms have found a place to belong.


In 2014, a few of our youth studied for and received hairdressing/nail art certificates; we strengthened our relationship with a local moms’ organization, I Am Mom, which hosts our Stop the Cycle meetings; and our staff continued to mentor many orphanage graduates. So much was overshadowed, though, by the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the fighting at the Russian border. At least one of our young men was called to active duty, and many of our youth and staff knew they could be called up anytime. We appreciate your prayers about the ongoing conflict.


It’s hard to believe it was only six years ago, in 2015, that we officially introduced Educational Outreach! It’s become our primary way to connect with new orphanage graduates. Our staff offer life skills lessons at trade schools, then invite orphaned youth to the Day Center and youth activities, where they’re drawn into our caring community.


2016 was another big year at Last Bell! Our newest program, the Restoration Project, really took off, with our first crew of orphaned young men learning the building trade while they repaired the homes of their fellow orphans. Our youth “graduated” from the Shelter, which transitioned into crisis housing. Right away, staff member Yulia S. met a mom who was a perfect candidate for the Shelter. She needed immediate, substantial help to keep her family together, and the Shelter provided it.


By 2017, our facilities were bursting at the seams! We met over 150 new orphaned youth in 2017 alone. So we moved our support services into a new facility, the Day Center, with lots of room for offices and for bigger gatherings. As soon as our youth became comfortable with the new location, the rooms filled up.


In 2018, Last Bell hired Anya H. part-time. Anya was our second former orphan on staff, following the first, Yulia S., who came on board in 2017. That means over 10% of our staff is drawn from the community we serve, which is so important! We need the skills these women bring – Anya is a doctor, Yulia a nurse – and we value their voices and their vision for the future of orphaned youth in our city.


In 2019, after thirteen years of serving orphaned youth in Zhytomyr, we published our first Impact Report. We love showing off our staff’s hard work, and the lifelong work of our youth as they take hold of opportunities, change their own lives, and create new paths for their families. Our second Impact Report came out in 2021. It featured our new data-gathering on the impact of our programs. The data matched the stories: our model of long-term mentorship and practical help really works.
2018/19 report
2020/21 report


Nobody had planned for 2020! Like nonprofits everywhere, we quickly learned how to get creative about meeting needs. In January we rolled out our new Stop the Cycle mobile unit, which was perfect timing: even in the midst of a pandemic, we were able to meet the needs of orphan moms who live in the villages outside Zhytomyr.


That brings us to 2021 – and the future! We look forward to continuing to serve orphanage graduates in Zhytomyr for the next fifteen years and beyond. Thanks for walking alongside us with your support and prayers!

Making Orphan Care Better in Zhytomyr

Training the next orphan care leaders

In late July, Last Bell Ukraine hosted a training for orphan care leaders on mentorship and basic orphan care principles. Our five newest staff attended (Sasha, Katya, Vitaliy, Sasha, and Lilly), plus friends from Next Generation and Samaritan Ministries, and a few individuals who plan to serve orphans personally. A training like this helps us serve our youth better; according to Director Andrey, it also reinforces our relationships with social services, associates Last Bell with “a higher level of expertise,” and “makes our voice louder” nationally.

Our very newest staff member, Katya, said, “Thanks to this training, I can better understand our youth and look deeper… Three days passed in a single breath. There was a lot of practice, communication, and important information.”

Lilly, another new staff member, was deeply moved by the stories she heard. The training “had a significant impact on our worldview and our real assessment of the situation in Ukraine… This teaching gave us the impetus to keep learning more and to love these special young people!”

Dasha’s dream of being a dental assistant almost died

Housing and tuition can make a dream come true

Dasha dreamed of being a dental hygienist. And while the state provides free education in many fields, this was not the case for dentistry. So Dasha’s grandparents paid for her education from their pensions. It wasn’t easy, especially because Dasha’s grandmother was ill.

Then, a year before graduation, Dasha’s grandmother died and her grandfather began drinking. Dasha was studying hard and didn’t have time to add a job, but somehow needed to pay for housing and tuition. 

So Last Bell stepped in. Our staff helped Dasha find a place in a social dorm, where her cost of living would be reduced. And we were able to help pay for her studies. 

Now, Dasha’s dream has been fulfilled! At graduation, she was so happy about her achievement. Staff member Luba shared, “Thank God for our organization, for people who donate finances for orphans. It’s so important!”

Dasha is looking for a job as a dental assistant. She called Luba recently to make plans. We pray that Dasha experiences God’s deep love through our concern for her future.

Left: Dasha with staff member Lena A.

Your gifts made it possible for us to step in and make sure Dasha’s dream didn’t fall apart after she’d put in so much time and effort. Many thanks for your generosity and your prayers! 

Monthly supporters Dre & Tony tell their story

We’re so thankful for each one of our DRUZI – our recurring donors. Some give monthly and some quarterly. You decide what works for you! 

Andrea and Anthony Kline have been giving to Last Bell monthly for over five years. They shared this testimony about why they love giving to Last Bell:

Thank you for your kind words, friends! We love hearing that Last Bell is a nonprofit our supporters have thoughtfully and prayerfully chosen.

As monthly donors, Dre and Tony are founding members of DRUZI. Will you be the next new member? Even $20 per month helps us invest in long-term mentorship and care of orphaned youth. Learn more about the impact of your monthly gift by clicking “DRUZI” at the top of the page or at this link:

DRUZI

Thanks so much for listening and caring!

What makes a good friend? Introducing DRUZI

Perhaps kindness… interest in your life… patience… gentle admonition when needed… and of course faithfulness even when times are tough. Last Bell’s youth are blessed with the friendship of our staff, volunteers in Ukraine and the USA, and those who give and pray. 

Our new program, DRUZI, names a very special group of friends: recurring donors. “Druzi” means “friends” in Ukrainian. Our DRUZI keep showing up faithfully, month after month!

Even a small recurring gift can make a big impact.

$5 provides tea and snacks for a one-to-one mentorship meeting each month.

$20 provides medication and antibiotics for one child in our Stop the Cycle program each month. 

It’s easy to securely set up a recurring gift by clicking “DRUZI” at the top of the page or this link:

JOIN DRUZI

Your monthly giving shows our young people they are loved, they’re worth investing in, and you believe they have a good future.

Thanks for being a faithful friend,

Megan Hershey
Executive Director

PS: Once a year, DRUZI will have special access to a Zoom call with our Director. Don’t miss out!

Dad Camp leaves Sasha in tears

Last Bell’s two “big camps,” one for Educational Outreach students and one for Stop the Cycle families, will take place in August this year. But some of our families already enjoyed a special weekend in June: a camp for dads and their kids, organized by DADCAMP (Kokomo, IN).

Dad Camp brought in 60 dads and 90 kids from all over Zhytomyr, including a few of our own Stop the Cycle dads. Staff members Yulia, a former orphan, and her husband Sasha, were beneficiaries of our Stop the Cycle program many years ago. Now, they serve as examples of lifelong learning for younger Stop the Cycle parents. Sasha wrote this about his camp experience:

“This is a very important event for fathers and their children… It’s an event that helps to distract dads from the hustle and bustle of work, so they can devote 100% of their time to their children.”

Dad Camp, Sasha said, helps a dad learn about his children’s experiences, and make changes to his own inner life to improve his relationship with his kids. 

Above: Sasha (center) with daughter and American leaders

Dad Camp includes games, crafts, teaching sessions on how to be a better dad, and one-on-one time for kids and dads. Dads and kids worked on gifts for each other; at the end of the week they presented the gifts during a quiet conversation. 

This camp includes games, crafts, teaching sessions on how to be a better dad, and one-on-one time for kids and dads. Dads and kids worked on gifts for each other; at the end of the week they presented the gifts during a quiet conversation. 

Sasha shared that at his first Dad Camp, in 2019, that gift-giving moment with his daughter Ksyusha “ended with tears in my eyes.”

Many thanks to Jason Braun, Brian Hertzog, and Brian’s son Elijah, who ran Dad Camp; and to the four local churches who hosted it. We’re so grateful that Dad Camp came to our city!

After camp in 2019

Stopping the cycle for orphan moms – together

When we work together with our community, more needs are met, and we have the joy of serving side-by-side with great people. 

Over a year ago, our staff met Katerina R. at a conference and learned that she ran a women’s center not far from Kyiv. Katerina and Oksana Pankyeyeva got to know each other, and agreed we would share experience and help. 

Soon after, Katerina visited our Shelter Crisis Center and brought gifts of baby food and diapers. She also put our staff in touch with a lawyer in Zhytomyr who specializes in working with public organizations and now helps prepare documents for our youth.

Then Oksana and driver Sasha, along with orphan mom Olya from the Shelter, visited Katerina’s organization. The Center for Mothers takes in women who have difficulty managing their lives – for example, those who’ve been in prison, homeless women with disabilities, or orphan moms. 

With clients from Katerina’s Center. Katerina is third from the left next to Oksana.

Since then, Katerina has helped in many different ways. Recently, she surprised us with many nice women’s handbags, which we gave to our moms during the big Easter meeting in May.

As Oksana said, “It’s great to be convinced again that we are not alone in God’s field!” We’re so thankful for the many compassionate people in our partner organizations—and for all our caring friends.

These sweet dreams provided by you

Sometimes the needs of our youth are very simple – like a bed to sleep in.

Yana’s parents are deceased, along with three of her eight siblings. After graduation from trade school, the government gave her a small room in a social dorm about thirty minutes from Zhytomyr. Social dorms aren’t meant to be permanent housing, but the room is a good solution for now. Yana just needs to pay electric bills.

Luba visiting Yana at her social dorm

However, she didn’t have a bed. And the social dorm kitchen is in terrible shape!

Staff member Luba often meets with Yana for mentorship and to learn about her needs. At the end of May, Luba and Vasya put your dollars to work on a bed for Yana, which they also helped her install.

Like many Ukrainians in tight spaces, her kitchen will be a single burner plate and an electric kettle. She’s really happy with her little space, and she’s excited about buying dishes and other cooking supplies.

Yana has a severe form of epilepsy, and she’s at the hospital right now for examinations that will help her receive disability status. But she’d like to get a job, too. Thanks for helping Yana dream good dreams for the future… and sweet dreams in her new bed!

Stop the Cycle brings new life to orphan moms

Celebrating New Life

Easter in Ukraine was just a month ago (on the Orthodox calendar) and in May we held a special Easter Stop the Cycle meeting at a local church. These photos, most taken by orphanage graduate Masha P., tell all kinds of stories about our orphan-parented families.

The resurrection of Jesus means the end of sin and death, and His victory promises new life for His children. Stop the Cycle is a whole community blooming with new life!

Work begins on Dasha Zingel’s home

Last fall, many of you gave funds to help Dasha Zingel renovate her family’s apartment.  Dasha’s grandmother, her guardian, died when she was ten, and after that she lived in an orphanage. She doesn’t have a support system outside of Last Bell.  

Some of you were able to take part in a Zoom “visit” at Dasha’s apartment with Ukrainian director Andrey. In case you missed it, here’s the video of that fascinating interview. Please forgive the quality—the bandwidth was poor. But you can hear first-hand from Dasha about her life and see the apartment. 

Dasha and her husband Sasha renovated two rooms, but the rest was too costly for Sasha’s Ukrainian salary. After a couple other projects this winter, our Restoration Project crew—all former orphans, apprenticing with foreman Sergei—have begun renovating the Zingel home. Here, they’re laying tile.

For Dasha, these repairs would have been impossible. But your donations made it possible for the Restoration Project to complete the repairs. Thank you for making Dasha’s home safe for her family!

Answered Prayers for Stella & Illia

We’re so thankful for you, our giving and praying community, who walk alongside our youth in all circumstances. Because of you, orphanage graduates have support with their children’s health needs.

We begin to pray for Illia

Our Prayer Circle subscribers will remember that a few years ago, we began writing about Stella’s four-year-old, Illia, who was having seizures due to encephalitis. He suffered one setback after another. Plans for surgery in Kyiv were first thwarted by a big seizure that landed him in the local hospital, then a measles outbreak at the Kyiv hospital. 

Later, the operation was postponed because Illia had a fever. He couldn’t walk and could barely speak. In late 2019 he developed conjunctivitis, then pneumonia. 

Local doctors offer no hope

Stella was told surgery probably wouldn’t help anyway, and she should just “make him comfortable.” The pneumonia dragged on for months. 

One medical team said Stella should give her daughter to the orphanage and focus on caring for her son. Another said she should give her son to the orphanage. 

In this video, you can see Stella’s patient, sweet attention to her son, and her response to the doctors’ advice. Former Board member Ellen Jackson recorded most of this footage on a trip to Ukraine in 2019, with Oksana and Andrey Pankyeyev translating:

Stella and Illia persevere, and God provides

Stella was determined to keep both her children and take care of her son, with the help of our Stop the Cycle group, which she loves. She had grown up in orphanages from the age of 10 months, and at Stop the Cycle she reconnected with former classmates who share her childhood and parenting experiences.

After years of setbacks, it seemed like Illia was never going to get better. But Stella’s church friends weren’t ready to give up. 

Stella’s pastor, Misha G., found a doctor in Vinnitsya—two hours south of Zhytomyr—who prescribed a new therapeutic regimen, including new medications, massage, and a treatment similar to neurofeedback. Stella was ready to try something new for her little boy.

And praise God – the new therapy began to work! Illia is making real improvements. Previously confined to a wheelchair, he’s now beginning to walk. His seizures have decreased and he can speak more easily. He’s off medication, and only returns to Vinnitsya for massage treatment.

Our long-term investment

When staff members Yulia and Sasha went to visit recently, they saw all Illia’s improvement. But Yulia could also see he was tired, and walking was painful. New orthopedic supplies are expensive, so Yulia mentioned the need to another staff member, who tracked down some braces a relative no longer needed. With them, Illia can walk a little longer and with less pain. 

We’re so thankful for everyone who prayed for Illia! Now that his health is improving, Stella wants to enroll him in a special school. School would be wonderful for Illia, but getting a placement for him will be difficult. We appreciate your continued prayers about this. 

We’re so thankful to God for this corner turned in Illia’s young life, and for your prayers on his behalf!

If you’d like to be added to the Prayer Circle, just email Emily.

Our community is stronger with orphanage graduates

A community is only whole when it doesn’t leave its most vulnerable members behind.

Nastya, an orphanage graduate with an intellectual disability, attends our life skills lessons at her trade school. At the Day Center, no one makes fun of her, she is accepted for who she is, and she experiences the love and warmth of our staff. She is a warm, caring person.

We’ve known Nastya for five years, and she loves the weekly craft lessons at the Day Center. Recently, after a day of learning macrame, Nastya gave her project as a gift to staff member Lena.

This sweet wall hanging—and the generous heart behind it—is a good reminder of why we help orphanage graduates. It’s not out of pity. Rather, these young people have just as much to offer as those who grew up in families. But without support, their gifts remain hidden. We’re so glad Nastya is part of the Last Bell community!

PS: For many years, our friends at Mission to Ukraine have been transforming a post-Soviet culture to make a place for those with disabilities. They are a bright light in our city!

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Last Bell Ministries

Loving and restoring orphanage graduates toward life and community.

Address


PO Box 30671
Indianapolis, IN 46230
info@lastbell.org

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