It is not often that children get to continue a legacy that their parents began, especially when it involves enriching the lives of youth and adolescents.
Bella Bonanno began her journey to continue her family's legacy of reaching out to youth, as she was appointed the area director of Crook County Young Life in August 2020.
Young Life is a faith-based non-profit that starts with adults who are concerned enough about kids to go to them, on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. In building these relationships, they introduce youth to Jesus Christ and help them build their faith.
Bonanno's story began when she moved to Prineville with her family when she was 2 years old. Bonanno received her school education in a homeschool environment and attended college at Southern Oregon University and received her bachelor's degree in international studies with a double minor in French and anthropology.
After graduating, she spent one year in France as a foreign language assistant in a high school and a middle school.
"I have worked with kids my whole life," she emphasized.
She worked with a Montessori school and an early childhood program before she attended college. In France, she worked with adolescents for the first time, and she enjoyed it tremendously.
"It was so great. I loved it, and after I came back from that, I just realized that I wanted to be in ministry in some form," she exclaimed of her experience with the older youth that she had the opportunity to work with in France. "I didn't know if that was going to be in vocational ministry or just volunteer work, but I knew I wanted to do it with adolescents."
She noted that upon coming back home, that Young Life was a presence in the community, and she decided to reach out to the area director at the time, Jacob Salmond. She sat down to talk to him to learn more about the organization and how to get involved.
"I really don't know what you guys do, but I know you are people who are safe, and you work with teenagers," she said of her conversation with Salmond.
Shortly after her interview, she became a volunteer for Young Life. She had not been involved in Young Life as a youth, so it was her first experience with the faith-based organization. When she began in 2015, there was a high school and middle school ministry, and she chose to work with the high school youth. In 2017, she took a part-time position as a mission staff person.
Salmond and his wife, Kyla, and three boys made the decision to take their ministry out on the road and traded their home for an RV in August 2020. They went on the road and Bonanno was chosen as his replacement as Young Life area director. She has held the position for approximately seven months.
"It's a great fit," said Salmond of his replacement for Young Life.
Recently, the Salmond family made the decision to stay in Florida after touring through all the states in the top part of the mainland and the East Coast down to Florida.
Bonanno indicated that the position in Prineville as area director has many pieces, including facilitating the teams who work under her. She goes to camp with teens when they are not dealing with the pandemic. She also helps with direct ministry and has a role in working with volunteers and donors for their ministry.
"I am responsible for upkeeping those relationships because those people matter a lot to us. We want them to feel fulfilled in some sense in their participation and to be participants in Young Life as well."
She added that they are trying to further develop the discipleship at the high school and middle school. Although there is not a college discipleship in Prineville, they are hoping to cultivate some avenues for this age group of youth. They are also launching a ministry at Rimrock Trails, a residential treatment facility in Prineville.
"There are a lot of different moving parts in that, and we have a couple of volunteers who are going there and helping staff out, being with kids/clients who are in that facility and building relationships," said Bonanno.
"I really love this job," she emphasized.
They are hoping to develop this relationship in the next couple years. Bonanno was inspired a great deal by her parents, who have been involved in working with adolescents most of her life. Her father was a wilderness counselor at the former Mt. Bachelor Academy.
"That has actually been really a beautiful thing for me personally to get to start ministry things at Rimrock and be in the world that he was involved in for the majority of my childhood with adolescents," said Bonanno.
She said his influence was inspiring and has driven her to want to have Young Life to have a presence in Rimrock. Her mother, Jill, was also involved with youth in the community in a number of different avenues, including the library program, education opportunities, and Jill now works for the local juvenile program for Crook County Juvenile Department.
"I feel like sometimes my parents and I are on a team and that has been super cool for me to get to follow in their footsteps and be part of the groundwork that they have laid in this community for kids. I really respect them and the things that they have done here and continue to do, and I feel honored to get to be a part of that and share that with them," Bonanno concluded.
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