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Group helps orphans in Ukraine

July 2, 2008, 11:00 3932 Author: Jim Niemi jniemi[at]herald-leader.com kentucky.com American family adopting the child from Ukraine shared their story with other adoptive parents who felt compelled to extend care and love to orphans and it led to the formation of the Hopeful Hearts Foundation, which helps children in Ukrainian orphanages

It was April 1998 when Kathy and Bob Drane and their daughter, Jessica, first came face to face with the 22-month-old twin girls in an Ukranian orphanage.

”I had walked right by them, but Jessica was sitting on a curb holding them,“ Kathy Drane said. ”I was 46, my daughter was 13, and I had no intention of adopting them. But Jess said, "Mom, we've got such a big house.' She really spurred us on.“

After returning to their Louisville home, the Dranes decided to become the twins' adoptive parents. But during the eight-month process, one of the twins, Natasha, was stricken by a summer cold that turned into pneumonia. Her chances of recovery were slim in the chilly orphanage — where the halls were dark and hot water was available only twice a week for showers — and she died for lack of $10 worth of penicillin.

The Dranes brought Olla to Kentucky that December and shared their story with other adoptive parents who felt compelled to extend care and love to other orphans at the center. That led to the formation of the Hopeful Hearts Foundation, which today provides medicine, food and hope each day for more than 2,000 Ukranian children in six of the country's orphanages.

Hopeful Hearts launched its first mission trip in 2005, taking more than 1,000 ”blessing bags“ filled with toys, books, musical instruments and snacks to the orphans for their Christmas, which is celebrated in early January.

The foundation has sent mission teams each holiday season since, Drane said. ”This year, we'll take a team of 16 people from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3,“ she said. ”We'll do Christmas with the kids and pass out the bags.“

Hopeful Hearts helps the orphans in other ways:

¦ U.S. parents have adopted 350 Ukranian orphans, including disabled children and those with special needs.

¦ All of the urine-stained, tattered, 30-year-old mattresses and beds in two orphanages — 600 beds in all — have been replaced.

¦ Supplemental food and medicine is provided to two hospitals.

¦ Two ”transitional homes“ have been purchased. Each houses six girls who otherwise would be forced to leave their orphanages at age 16 or 17, and many would end up living on the streets or under them, in sewers and steam tunnels.

Estimates put the orphan street population in the Ukraine at 255,000, where their life expectancy is 23 years and their misery is muted only by sniffing glue, which they call ”mother's arms.“

Hopeful Hearts has also extended its mission into Afghanistan, where it helps an orphanage, and India, where it has a girls' school.

Back in 2000, Trish and Jeff Bellucci of Louisville adopted their first Ukrainian orphan, whom they named Andrew. He was 9 months old, but weighed only 10 pounds and could not roll over or hold a bottle.

”In three to four months' time, he was taking steps, rolling over,“ Trish said. ”He needed love and attention.“

The Belluccis immediately began the process to adopt Jacob, a 15-month-old who already was walking and could speak some Russian words.

The boys, now 8 and 6, ”are 20 months apart, and I didn't even plan it,“ Trish said.

The couple will be in the Ukraine again in September and October to receive a third orphan. ”We're hoping for a girl, but another boy would be fine,“ Trish said.

For Trish, a third-grade teacher in Jefferson County, and Jeff, a financial planner and vice president of Hopeful Hearts, the experience has given them the family they wanted even though physical problems prevented them from having their own children.

”Being barren turned from something terrible to something beautiful,“ Trish said.

She added that becoming a parent is not the only benefit of adoption. ”It's turned into wonderful relationships (with other adults and children), both here and in Ukraine.“

Kathy Drane acknowledged that some people ask why Hopeful Hearts invests its energy and resources in other countries when need is so critical in the United States.

She answers by returning the question. ”Tell me a little about what you're doing here“ to help the needy. Few, she says, do anything.

”I don't understand why God is telling me to do this. But he is.“

How to help

Contact Hopeful Hearts Foundation Inc. at 420 Ethridge Ave., No. 206, Louisville, Ky. 40223. Reach the organization by phone at (502) 253-9825.

For more information, visit www.hopefulheartsfoundation.org.

”You want to bring them all home.“

Reach Jim Niemi at (859) 231-3216 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3216.

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