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A human connection: Dover resident helps orphans in Ukraine

Daniel Widder is surrounded by children at an orphanage in northern Ukraine. He described the connection to the children as instant. He plans to return to Ukraine in spring.


Daniel Widder graduated from Dover High School in 2009 and four years later from Walsh University, where he earned a dual degree in international relations and history.

Widder traveled to Ukraine in 2012 and again in 2013 to assist children at an orphanage near Simferopol, Crimea as a member of the Dover Ukrainian Mission Team.

It was a moving experience that would leave him a changed person.

“I didn't realize what I had until I saw what others did not,” said Widder. “In fact, I kind of felt like a jerk.” Widder's loss of innocence would be put to good use.

The conditions and poverty in which the children lived as social orphans, their own parents unable to care for them because of substance abuse or addiction, the risk of abuse or neglect, incarceration or a combination of issues, inspired Widder to begin an initiative that would provide badly needed new beds and a glimmer of hope for the nearly forgotten souls that had nothing to do with the circumstances that led them to this life.

Widder returned to the United States and started Change for Ukraine. His fundraising efforts were successful. He managed to raise $15,000, much of it from his own community, the community he credits for his being compassionate, dedicated and willing to serve others.

Before he could return to the orphanage to complete his effort, the Russian government seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine in February 2014. He would not be permitted to return, the orphanage would be closed and he would never learn the fate of the girls he had committed to help.

Knowing there were others, many others, Widder returned this time to a part of Ukraine that, due to concerns for the safety of residents and workers at another orphanage, he was unable to disclose.

Working with Bible Hope Ministry and Children's Hope Ukraine, Widder spent three weeks in Ukraine and was able to help children and indeed, offer a glimmer of hope when he provided new beds that the children eagerly helped to assemble, new bedding, personal items, school supplies, and despite a language barrier, a brief but meaningful friendship to children who had little to smile about.

His desire to help children was contagious. Other members of

his community stepped up. Local quilter Linda Ladrach spearheaded an effort that would provide 128 handmade quilts, each of which Widder would personally hand to a child who could call it their own while they stayed in the care of the orphanage.

“I never wanted this to be about me,” said Widder. “I want the children to know it was a community that cared and helped them. I grew up here. I have always had this. For the children in the orphanage, they can barely think past the moment. Life is difficult, and the people that care for them are not necessarily kind. To many, it is simply a job.”

Widder, still jet lagged, spoke excitedly about his journey, jumping from one topic to another. His three weeks in Ukraine instilled him in a sense of purpose bigger than anything he had ever known.

“My parents have bent over backwards to support what I am doing, “ said Widder. “I have to mention my mentor, Kelly Selby, and my community for making this possible.” Selby was Widder's history professor at Walsh, and they remain friends today.

Widder is working midnights at a local grocery store, and by day, he continues humanitarian efforts that will make a difference in the lives of young people. He plans to attend graduate school, where he will seek a degree in conflict analysis and resolution. He intends to return to Ukraine in spring. “Mostly, I want to help young people,” said Widder. “I never thought anything could beat the feeling of college graduation. Helping these kids does, though. I don't know how to describe the feeling, it's overwhelming, the human connection.”

Widder will share his experience Nov. 9 at 1:30 p.m. in the fellowship hall at St. John's United Church of Christ. The church is located at 409 N. Wooster Ave. in Dover. All are welcome.

Published: October 31, 2014
New Article ID: 2014710319968