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!
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:
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.
$5provides tea and snacks for a one-to-one mentorship meeting each month.
$20provides 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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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 atMission 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!
Last Bell Summer Camp is a crash course in joyful belonging where the love and compassion just keep pouring in. When we play, eat, and talk together, day after day, our orphan students and orphan parents grow exponentially.
Oksana is a graduate of Stop the Cycle who volunteered at camp last year. She went to youth camp several times, and Stop the Cycle camp with her husband. At camp Oksana decided to follow Jesus, which she calls “the most true and important choice” in her life.
Oksana’s life always changed after camp, especially at family camp, she said, “where I studied raising a child, building a relationship with one’s husband, and getting to know God.” She was drawn to the lives of our Christian staff. “I received from them a lot of love and warmth, which was unusual for me.”
As a child, Oksana felt like the whole world was against her. But at camp, her heart was softened by the love and attention she received.
For Oksana, volunteering was "a blessing from God... I saw how the girls arrived all loaded up with their problems, and how they flourished at camp and their attitude toward their children changed in a couple of days."
So many other orphaned youth and orphan-parented families experience joyful belonging for the first time at summer camp. And you make it possible!
Oksana: For mothers, these camps are especially important, because those who haven’t had a good example of family life don’t know how to raise a child. In this camp you can learn and understand how to love your children, how to spare the time to help them, how to deal with various problems.
Why is camp important for students?
Oksana: In this place you begin to feel needed, to hear a lot about God and God’s love for you, to meet teenagers who are like you, to learn good advice about how to build your life. And you establish relationships with leaders who support you after camp. There is time to rest and to reevaluate your life.
Orphanage graduates who’ve experienced trauma… who’ve been neglected and abused… who feel alone and uncertain… who need help to raise their young children… everyone belongs. Last Bell summer camp is specially designed for our orphaned youth. They are accepted and loved just as they are.
We recently shared a story about orphanage graduate Vadim, who had eye surgery thanks to Last Bell’s friends. It was at summer camp last year that Vadim began to learn about belonging in Last Bell’s community.
“After evening meetings,” Vadim said, “I had the opportunity to ask the leaders the questions I was interested in… I more and more understood that I needed to change my way of thinking, my environment, my attitude to life and people in general.”
Camp helped Vadim make some important choices. He began working, renting an apartment, and going to church with our staff. In his own words, Vadim “became a more open and happy person.”
The most important thing about camp, Vadim said, was “a friendly atmosphere… where you are appreciated, accepted, and loved as you are… I learned that God loves me not because of what I’ve done, but just because.”