The Ukrainian visitors said their tearful goodbyes at a special farewell dinner on Aug. 27 at the Bally Mennonite Church before departing for their homes in Bohodukhiv the next day.Their 14-day visit was a whirlwind of activities with trips to Lancaster, Philadelphia, New York City, Longwood Gardens, the New Jersey shore, Dorney Park and the local mall with their host families.
Their experiences deepened the friendships for the students and created indelible impressions for the visitors.
"The association between our two little towns is one more step toward peace and understanding in the world," said Dr. James Tribbett, as he addressed members of the Boyertown Sister Cities committee, the host families and visitors at the dinner.
This ongoing Boyertown Bohodukhiv relationship started in the 1980s through the efforts of former Boyertown residents, Irving and Jennifer Hollingshead. The local organization is part of an international program that promotes global partnerships of communities. Throughout two decades, residents of the towns communicate and host exchanges with each other.
Last year, four Boyertown students-Matthew Freed, Caitlin Hartnett, Gillian Irwin and Elizabeth Simpson-and their advisors, Lisa Dries and Dr. James Tribbett, traveled to Bohodukhiv in the Kharkiv Oblast providence of eastern Ukraine.
On Aug. 14, Ukrainian students Ruslan Terziyan, 16, Valeriya Dulembova, Valeriya Kharchenko and Maryna Batrak, all 15, and their two advisors, Andrii Maslak and Yana Pugach, completed the exchange with their arrival in Boyertown.
"It has been the fastest two weeks of my life," Terziyan said. "I want to thank my family (the Freeds) and the (Sister Cities) organization for making this possible. It was wonderful."
"Boyertown is now my second home and I have a second family," Kharchenko said. "When I go to school, I will be full of impressions to share."
"I want to thank you for our stay and thank the parents for having us," Maslak said. "I made lots of new friends and I will be glad to see you again in my country."
As part of the exchanges, the participants work on a community service projects for each town. This year's project was the refurbishment of the courtyard garden at the Boyertown Area Senior High.
"The garden, brick walkways and pond already existed but needed cleanup and maintenance," Simpson said. "We weeded and planted more shrubs and perennials. Glick's Greenhouse and Hollenbach Home Center donated plants and materials."
As part of the project, the students painted the picnic tables and benches and decorated them with symbols of Sister Cities. One table features joined hands and each of the benches bears the handprints of the students.
"I was so proud of them," said Boyertown teacher Pamela Ferraro, who previously participated in a Boyertown Bohodukhiv exchange. "They worked well together and did a wonderful job."
The students created their own stepping stones to add to the garden path.
"We used pieces of tiles to form our own mosaic designs," Irwin said. "We each left our own personal mark on the project."
Arlene Butts, one of the originating members of Sister Cities, recalled how participants of the exchange have helped one another throughout the years. Boyertown members volunteered in orphanages, local tree nurseries and at a hospital. They donated clothes and school supplies. They now send seed packets to Bohodukhiv since many families grow their own vegetables.
During the program, Butts shared a photograph showing her visiting Maslak in Bohodukhiv when he was only nine years old. Now, he is 22 years old and works at a bank following his graduation from college.
"I am so glad Caitlin was chosen for this program," said her mother, Rose Hartnett. "It is great to see the kids inter-act-there are no barriers when they are together."
Both sets of students feel enriched after the exchange.
"It was the greatest experience in my life to go to a different country last year," Hartnett told the crowd. "It is also amazing to watch our friends discover and enjoy things that we take for granted."
"I want to thank everyone for making this happen," Irwin said. "I've been looking forward to sharing our town, school and home with them."
Members of the Boyertown Sister Cities committee hope the youth will continue to be active in the organization to continue its mission.
"I think this program has made an impact, and we hope we can continue it in the future," Butts said.
Dr. James Tribbett, president of Boyertown Sister Cities committee, presented an Amish quilt to the Bohodukhive Sister Cities committee, as a token to recognize the ongoing friendship between the two towns. From left, Matt Freed, Maryna Batrak, Yana Pugach, Valeriya Dulembova, Andrii Maslak, James Tribbett, Ruslan Terziyan, Valeriya Kharchenko, Gillian Irwin, Caitlin Hartnett and Elizabeth Simpson.