Happy Child logo

His family goes beyond blood, borders

June 14, 2006, 0:00 3352 Author: LISA FINNERAN NEWPORT NEWS One trip to Ukraine nearly four years ago led to a commitment to help orphaned children in Europe and Africa.

NEWPORT NEWS -- Daniel Clark figures his family includes orphans in Russia and Ukraine as well as his wife, Julie, and newborn son, Judah.

"Psalm 68 says that God places the lonely in a family," said Clark, outreach and development director with Children's HopeChest.

He added that in his definition, "family" isn't the legal definition but rather a group of people who care about one another.

Clark, 26, started his career as a youth pastor and came to the Peninsula in 2004 as the "youth and music guy" with HarborPoint Community Church in Hampton.

More recently he was hired to open HopeChest's first East Coast office. The Colorado-based nonprofit organization works with churches, businesses and individuals to help orphans in Russia and Ukraine make the transition from life in an orphanage to life on their own.

"The key way we link up those two groups is relationships," Clark said. Those relationships can take the form of letters sent to the children, financial sponsorship of an individual child, or mission-style trips to visit orphanages.

Of the roughly 20 churches involved with HopeChest in the eastern half of the United States, Clark said about 25 percent are here in Hampton Roads, which is why HopeChest opened its East Coast office here in March.

Clark and his wife Julie had their first child earlier this month. We talked to him about his work and how being a father will affect his perspective on family.

Q: How did you become interested in helping orphans in Russia?

A: It probably goes all the way back to 1993 when my wife went to Russia for the first time (with her church youth group). That kind of changed the trajectory of her life. So she went into special needs education and administration, and that's what she was doing when I met her. Three or four months after we got married we went to Ukraine. That was my first experience. That was July of 2002.

Q: Before you met your wife, what did you think you were going to do with your life?

A: Music. I was a music major. I was touring with my band when I met her.

Q: What kind of music?

A: Church, youth group kind of pop, rock worship music. I thought I'd be doing that for a long time.

Q: How did you first get involved with Children's HopeChest?

A: When we moved here in 2003, the first person we met was a guy named Kevin Harrison, who owns Chick-Fil-A's at Kiln Creek and Yoder Plaza. He's on the board of directors for Children's HopeChest. He was taking a trip in May of '04 with Children's HopeChest. He told us what they do, what the trip would be about, and he told us to consider whether we would go with him and we said the considering was done, what were the dates.

Q: Describe to me what struck you about that first trip.

A: I met this guy named Sergei. He was walking around with a Walkman, and I love music, so I asked him what he was listening to. He opened it up and showed me there were no batteries. So I went to the bus and got a couple double-A's, and he was so excited. And then he turned it over and showed me there was no tape. The fact that these kids are reaching out for something to call their own, and they're coming up empty. They're coming up with just a shell.

Q: Are there other children you can't forget?

A: This girl Oksana, she moved to a big city to go to a tech school and has since run away and no one knows how to find her. It breaks my heart.

Q: At the same time you have to feel good about the kids you've been able to help.

A: Certainly. I had pizza with two guys - Dima and Sergei - and they're both getting their education. They basically said, "Without HopeChest, we would either be dead or in jail, because that's where the rest of our family is."

Q: Tell me about your childhood.

A: I was blessed to have a healthier family for sure than the kids that we work with in Russia. I grew up in Columbus with an older sister and a younger brother. We moved when I was in high school. That was the most traumatic thing that happened to me. It was a pretty traditional midwestern family.

Q: Were you a religious family?

A: Yes. I grew up in the church. A nondenominational Christian church.

Q: You and Julie have become parents for the first time. How do you think being a parent is going to change your perspective on children?

A: I read that our son could start to hear and learn at 20 weeks, and I started then explaining to him why we go to Russia and why we go to Africa, and that he has brothers and sisters out there that he doesn't even know.

Happy Child foundation - effective help to the most needy children of the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, since 2004

They need help:
Yaroslav Kopiyko
Yaroslav Kopiyko

Cerebral palsy, spastic tetraparesis

Help now

You donated in 2024

$ 19 012

Our expenses in 2024
To 25 sick children $8 679
Medical equipment: $1 355
Humanitarian help: $12 581
To disabled children: $25 776
To children's village: $263
To orphans and poor children: $673
"Helpus" - help to adults: $5 691
Service expenses: $3 655
Total sum of expenses: $58 736

$6 785 412

donated since 2007