Couple give up jobs to take in severely neglected nephew

Idi Kenner helps Charlie Williams, 17, with his hand during a family game of Uno on the dining table in their home in Riviera Beach.

When Idi and Aura Kenner agreed take in Idi’s nephew, they knew he’d been neglected and was just hours from being placed in foster care. But what took Idi’s breath away was the way the boy looked.

“You know how you see those babies from poor countries that are really skinny, but with their belly sticking way out? That was Charlie.”

Charlie was a teenager, but in 2013 when authorities found him in the hotel where his mother abandoned him, he was 67 pounds. He wore a Pull-Up.

The Riviera Beach couple had already created their blended family, merging her kids with his and having another together. Still when they were contacted two years ago, they figured they had lots of room in their heart for an addition.

Charlie leans on the table while playing dominoes with family.

Charlie leans on the table while playing dominoes with family.

“We are all he has. It’s not a burden,” Aura said. “But it’s changed a lot.”

Charlie’s medical needs proved significant and long-term.

Now 17 years old, he has no fewer than 11 specialists, most of them based at Miami Children’s Hospital. Charlie has a willing grin, but limited hearing and speech. He has autism. His right eye isn’t working properly, he has juvenile arthritis and problems with his kidneys.

Never trained to use the restroom, and a lifetime of holding it in has created severe intestinal problems. For the longest time, Charlie required a week-long stay at Miami Children’s Hospital to clean out his bowels every month or so. Surgeons finally broke the cycle this summer when they bypassed his colon with a colostomy to give his body a rest. In the coming months, the family will learn whether Charlie’s body is able to regroup or whether he’ll need a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

Idi Kenner is an electrician, Aura Kenner works as a clerk at the Health Department. The two were living in a 4-bedroom home with plans to buy, when Charlie’s health concerns became their priority.

While health insurance covers much of Charlie’s medical costs, the frequent excursions to hospitals and doctors have taken a toll on the family income. Idi has lost three jobs. Aura’s work allows her to take leave, but much of it unpaid. The couple and their five children living at home, including Charlie, were evicted.

“We make due. A lot of it is faith. No matter what, God provides,” said Idi, whose family church — Faith Holy Temple Evangelist in Riviera Beach — has provided the family with a make-do home. The dining chairs are bare to the foam. Only two other chairs are available for seating. The kids ages 4 to 15 take turns washing dishes.

While the family has suffered setbacks, Charlie is growing. His teachers at Seagull Academy for Independent Living say he’s hard-working. He’s sweet-natured, chips in with the chores and is competitive – Charlie plays basketball and runs track. He recently won a regional bowling competition.

The couple is trying to put together the funds to move into a 4-bedroom house. They’re also is asking for $2,500 to cover legal fees in pursuit of guardianship when he’s an adult.

Unless the couple can arrange legal guardianship, they’ll lose custody of Charlie when he turns 18, Idi notes. “He’ll be 18, but he won’t be able to make decisions on his own. We need to be there for him.”

 

CHARLIE’S WISH:

As a teenager, Charlie Williams was abandoned by his mother at a hotel. But, clearly, the neglect began years earlier: Charlie weighed just 67 pounds when police found him. The autistic, arthritic teen was wearing a Pull-Up. His life improved dramatically when he was taken in by his aunt and uncle, Idi and Aura Kenner and their children. Due to Charlie’s severe medical needs, the couple lost jobs, income and their home. The family is trying to put together $4,800 for first, last and security on a 4-bedroom house. They’d like $2,300 for computer tablets and two laptops so the kids can do their homework. The couple also is asking for $2,500 to cover legal fees in pursuit of guardianship when Charlie becomes an adult. “When he turns 18, we lose custody. He’ll be 18, but he won’t be able to make decisions on his own. We need to be there for him.”

Photography by Greg Lovett / Staff

Nominated by Seagull Academy for Independent Living

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