Last Bell with Bonnie: a Travelogue

Board member Irene Millikan in Seattle has been telling her friends and family about our youth for many years. After hearing a multitude of stories, Irene’s twin sister, Bonnie, was finally able to visit Last Bell in person this fall. We spoke with Bonnie about this opportunity to witness firsthand the way a long commitment of love has brought healing to our orphanage graduates.

“After supporting Last Bell for many years, it was such a privilege to see the ministry,” Bonnie said. “The first night in Ukraine, we had dinner with the staff. It was wonderful to see the warmth and camaraderie.”

L-R: Volunteer Nastya, Bonnie, Irene, staff member Lena

“We visited a dorm where the staff teaches life skills to the orphans in trade schools.”

The school’s director gave the group a tour, including dorm rooms.

“We saw three young men with a staff mentor renovating an apartment, saw finished work, and saw awful not-yet-touched homes… What a great way to teach young men life skills.”

Our Restoration Project crew

“We visited a meeting with moms in a parenting class, and babies in another room being cared for by staff. Each mom was given food supplies.”

Bonnie with a Last Bell baby

“I was so impressed with the staff. I saw them at the Day Center with many kids attending. They were doing fun activities with them and serving food.”

Our youth at the Day Center

Our staff at the Day Center

Irene had met one group of teenage women in Zhytomyr fifteen years ago, on a service trip with Mission to Ukraine; Irene and Bonnie’s sister-in-law Mary Millikan got to know the very same young women through Little Lambs. Mary and Irene’s concern for the girls’ future, and passion about providing hope for them, became part of Last Bell’s foundation.

“It was so wonderful to meet three of Irene’s original girls from her camp group fifteen years ago,” Bonnie said, “all now married with children.”

Bonnie and Irene were invited to one very special event: the ninth birthday party of Katya P.’s oldest son. “Katya was probably ten or eleven in Irene’s group… and she’s now married with two darling boys,” Bonnie said. Katya and her boys live with her husband’s family. Katya’s husband, sadly, wasn’t there.

Bonnie and Irene with Katya

Liz (Millikan) Zubko, left, with birthday boy and his grandmother. Liz is Last Bell’s former operations director in Ukraine and brought her aunt Bonnie and aunt Irene to the birthday party. The community that loves on our youth includes former staff and volunteers (future staff!).

“The one that absolutely hung on her was Yulia [Sagaidachna]… Her grandma passed away last year, and she said ‘you’re the only babushka I have.’ Irene is pretty important in her life.”

Yulia and Irene after 15 years

We asked Bonnie what it meant to see Yulia S. on staff after hearing about her for so long.

“It’s an incredible story, it’s a miracle,” said Bonnie. “That a child who was an orphan with nothing, in an orphanage, would come to know the Lord, be married, have a child, and then be part of a team? Who would have ever thought that could happen? No one would have thought that, ever. So God has just blessed abundantly.”

Yulia with her family

“And of course, Ira and her little child showed up at church. She doesn’t go to church, but she wanted to see Irene that badly… so it means a lot to kids that she’s been there all those years.”

Irene with Ira

Bonnie and Irene also visited the Shelter, our crisis housing center for moms. “Such a neat support for moms in crisis,” Bonnie said. God’s love shining from babushka Irene and our team will bring hope to many generations of our young families!

Mom and baby at the Shelter