BELOIT - He could have easily moved on, but he didn't.
Perhaps that is the beauty of Wilky Clark's relationship with his home country of Haiti. Despite enduring homelessness and hunger on its streets has a child, he just cant stay away from his birthplace.
When not being a husband and dad or working as a forklift driver at Frito-Lay, he's digging wells, building chicken farms and helping to launch an orphanage in the place that was once home.
Although the 28-year-old knows he can't save all of the boys who remind him of his former self, Wilky Clark has found 10 of them to nurture. They understand each other and have a common bond: hope.
"Even though they are living there, I feel like they are my kids," he said.
"People in the community know Wilky used to live there. They knew he was a boy who ran in the streets. Now they see this grown man, coming back and helping their village," said Natalie Parker, a nurse practitioner who had done mission trips with Wilky Clark.
Wilky Clark's life has been nothing short of miraculous, considering how it began. After his mother was murdered in 2001, the boy spent his time on Haiti's streets. When in season, he'd eat mangoes or sugarcane. When not, he'd resort to mud.
Central Christian Church Pastor David Clark and his wife Deby gave the boy the opportunity of a lifetime when they decided to adopt him. Deby had spotted him on a missions trip in 2002. They estimated his age to be 10 or 11, as Wilky Clark didn't know his birthday.
However, during the two years it took the Clarks to adopt their new son, jealous villagers heard of his impending move to the U.S. and made threats on his life. Wilky Clark also suffered as he nursed a broken leg with very little medical intervention.
When the boy arrived in Beloit in 2004, opportunity and culture shock awaited. He recalled being surprised to discover women could drive, that people would dress casually in church or that stores would be so large. Unable to speak English, he had no idea what his teachers at Aldrich were saying. However, his social personality made him a big hit with all, and he acclimated well.
"When I came here there was so much opportunity. People had food in the refrigerator, cars, money and clothes. It was heaven compared to Haiti," Wilky Clark said. "If I didn't get adopted back then, I would possibly be dead today. I'm so blessed. I can't imagine living anywhere but here."
Despite fleeing a nightmare, Wilky Clark was back in Haiti seven months later, joining church volunteers on a mission trip to build a hospital in 2005. He returned again in 2006 after saving up money by detasseling corn and mowing lawns. He wanted to help build a home for a Haitian friend who had helped him during his life on the streets.
During his teenage years, Wilky Clark would continue to work and save, going to Haiti as many as three times a year. He started paying for kids to attend school and bought groceries for people. Then he moved on to digging wells and helping villagers launch chicken farms.
He explained that for about $2,000 Haitians can buy a building, 600 chickens and feed to launch a successful business. After six weeks, a family with a chicken farm can turn a profit, buy more chickens and eventually grow a large-scale family business.
Wilky slowed his travels down a bit in 2012, after marrying his wife Marissa and having daughter Bella, now age 3. However, he still travels to Haiti once a year where he is working with the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization House of Grace to build a school and orphanage in Leogane, Haiti, his hometown.
Although there are schools in Haiti, Wilky explained how attendance is not required and education isn't free.
Children with parents can go hungry, and the many orphans in Haiti suffer even more.
"Some of the boys in the orphanage are living like I was, like little slaves," Wilky Clark said. "They are 7 or 8-years-old and have to do hard labor."
Because of concern for survival, many Haitians "live for today," with children not necessarily planning for their futures.
Without sources of consistent income, many Haitians will walk or bike three hours for a day of work. It's not unusual for such families to have seven or eight children in a two-room house.
In such an environment, the orphanage is desperately needed. Children there are fed three meals a day, taught trades, educated and shown love. The orphanage also provides jobs in the community.
"People feel like they are being productive and showing their families they can work and make money," Parker said.
So far, the orphanage has 10 boys. When finished, it will be able to serve 50 children with the potential for expansion.
After his last trip to Haiti in January, Wilky Clark shed happy tears with how successful the orphanage has been. The boys' faces have brightened, encouraging him to keep going.
Although he knows he can't help everyone, he said those 10 boys can one day help another 10 or 20 boys creating a ripple effect of change.
Wilky is also seeing signs of hope throughout the country at large. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, he said many people are building homes and schools again and their happiness is coming back.
"It will take many years, but conditions are slowly improving in Haiti," Wilky Clark said.
"The people don't have a lot, but they are thankful for what they do have and that they wake up the next morning. Everybody takes care of everybody and they all look out for each other," Parker added.