Monday, November 21, 2005

Lena Comes Home

From today's Benton County Daily Record, a story about a family that we hosted at The Portico a few weeks ago. They came and told their story and shared with us how they were getting ready to go to Ukraine to bring Lena home.

"Lena Comes Home"

Editor’s Note: The Daily Record profiled the Clark family in a July 31 Accents story. At the time, Jimmie and Amanda Clark were living with their sons Dima (Dee-ma) and Leks (Lex), two boys with cerebral palsy they adopted from Ukraine three years ago. The Clarks were also raising money to adopt Lena, a Ukrainian girl with CP who was scheduled to be moved into an institution after a previous adoption fell through.

The Clark family reunited in the lobby of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport late Thursday night after Jimmie and Amanda returned from the Ukraine with their new daughter Lena. Clockwise from left; Amanda's parents Jim and Marcy Crawmer, Leks, Jimmie, Lena, Amanda and Dima all hugged during an emotional family moment in the lobby of XNA.

HIGHFILL — Young Leks and Dima Clark were up way past their bedtime, waiting nervously at the bottom of the escalator with their grandma and grandpa Thursday night at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

Leks battled tired eyes and told his grandma, "I want my mommy and daddy."

Dima clutched a Cabbage Patch doll and stood straight up, eyes fixed on the top of the escalator, eager to present his hand-picked gift.

After almost a month without their parents, they were waiting to reunite at the airport — waiting to greet their parents and their new 5-year-old sister.

After four months of prayers, fundraising and jumping through infinite legal hoops, Jimmie and Amanda Clark brought Lena home. A long journey

Lena’s journey from Ukraine to Bentonville began more than three years ago when Jimmie and Amanda Clark traveled to an orphanage in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, to adopt two children. Although they adopted two boys, Amanda stayed in touch with the orphanage after they returned, always keeping tabs on a blonde girl named Lena who had cerebral palsy.

Back in June, Amanda received a phone call from another family who adopted from the same orphanage. The caller told Amanda that a planned adoption for Lena had fallen through. Because she’d reached a certain age and hadn’t been adopted, Lena would be placed in an institution. "It’s difficult for Americans to understand," Amanda said in July, "but in Ukraine, if children to be adopted are not walking by age 4, they’re sent to an institution. Because of neglect and disease, the children placed in the institutions survive only months."

Amanda and Jimmie prayed together, weighing the pros and cons of extending their family. They would need approximately $16,000 to pay for the adoption, travel, and other expenses, as well as the possibility of three to six weeks away from work. "You really just can’t make a decision like that on money," Amanda said.

Amanda called the orphanage director and told him they would adopt if he could keep Lena out of an institution until the Clarks could raise the money and file all the paperwork to make it happen.

Then the process began: Making trips to Little Rock, carefully filling out detailed papers over and over again, and having crucial forms translated into Russian. "After we started the process, we knew it was something we were supposed to do," Amanda said.

After four months the money was in and the papers were filed, leaving Jimmie and Amanda with a month-long trip to Ukraine to bring Lena home. I’m going home now

Jimmie and Amanda had to leave Leks and Dima behind while they were gone. After not being apart for more than one night in three years, they were going to be separated for almost a month. "Every time we would talk to the boys on the phone, all Leks would say is ‘come home, ’" Amanda said. "Both Jimmie and I were devastated on the plane trip over. Once we finally got to Kramatorsk and saw (Lena) in the orphanage, it really settled us both down."

The orphanage staff had been telling Lena for months that her "mama and papa" were coming to get her. Amanda and Jimmie had sent pictures of their family so Lena could get accustomed to them.

After arriving in Kramatorsk, Jimmie and Amanda only had four hours each day to visit Lena. From the first day, Lena immediately latched on to her new parents. "The first day we saw her, she said ‘ Hi’ and that she wanted us to stay, and that there was a bed we could sleep in," Amanda said. "She was very proud of us and would let everyone know that these were her parents."

After waiting on paperwork to be shuttled back and forth by train to Kiev, the Clarks finally made it to court where a judge finalized the adoption and then miraculously waived a mandatory 10-day waiting period.

Amanda said that Lena wasn’t sad when she left the orphanage that had been her home for nearly five years.

As her new parents carried her out for the last time, Lena told everyone "Goodbye, I’m going home now."

Just one week later, in the lobby of XNA, Lena was home and the family was whole again. Jimmie carried Lena in his arms as he and Amanda hurried across the last few feet from the bottom of the escalator, falling to their knees in a family heap of hugs and tears.

Dima softly touched Lena’s face as he greeted his sister for the first time, handing over the doll that he’d helped pick out. After an explanation from her mother, Lena grasped it to her chest and with her quiet voice said "Zaitcheka," Russian for "doll."

She’s slept with it every night since.

Dima Clark, left, handed over a doll to his new sister Lena just moments after the family was reunited Thursday night at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Dima had been ending every day for the last four months by praying for his sister who was already fast asleep in her orphanage in Kramtorsk, Ukraine.