A lesson in compassion

Family: An elementary school secretary opens her home and her heart to a developmentally disabled pupil.

October 28, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Kory Heinbuck, a developmentally disabled 7-year-old boy, has lived in many different places during his short life.

His favorite so far is the small brown home of Susan Faro, the Anne Arundel County school secretary who met Kory last year and took him in after a series of family difficulties left the boy in need of a place to stay.

To an outside observer, Kory's living situation is a remarkable example of how school employees sometimes shoulder responsibilities far beyond their job descriptions.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption in Tuesday's Maryland section of The Sun incorrectly identified a daughter of an Anne Arundel County school secretary who gave a home to a disabled pupil. The daughter's name is Jen Faro.

But to Kory and Faro -- the woman he calls "Mom" -- it is a natural answer to an unhappy set of circumstances.

"It's cool, and I like it," Kory said, grinning broadly. "It's my little house."

Although the boy is by no means an orphan -- his parents and other relatives live in the Baltimore region -- Faro is the one who has provided him with a stable home since March, when he stopped living with his mother.

The bond between the boy and Faro, 38, began at Park Elementary School in Brooklyn Heights, where Faro checked in children who were late to school. She paid special attention to Kory -- one of her regulars -- sometimes carrying the first-grader to class in her arms and keeping his spirits up by reminding him of the Pop-Tart he would get for breakfast.

"Our hearts went out to him, because you could tell he was a child in need," said Faro, who noticed that Kory appeared small for his age and seemed to be mentally developing more slowly than his peers.

He has since been found to have Williams syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes medical and developmental difficulties, including heart problems and poor fine-motor skills.

Principal Diane Lenzi said she was touched by the relationship between the secretary and Kory, whom she remembered because he was so frequently absent. "He was a tiny little guy, and Sue loved him," Lenzi said. "It was not the usual secretarial assistance."

Faro, a first-year secretary, had not yet learned to keep an emotional distance the way many school staff do through years of dealing with youngsters from difficult circumstances.

She became friendly with Kory's mother, Renae Klemkowski, and agreed to baby-sit for her on occasion. Faro's teen-age daughters, Jen and Stephanie, had never had a little brother and found the boy amusing. He was affectionate and liked to sing country songs, and he was extremely talkative -- a characteristic of the syndrome.

Last October, when Kory and his mother lost their home, Faro, who was recently divorced, agreed to let them live in her basement, Faro said. Kory's father, Eddie Heinbuck, had left when the boy was 3.

Kory and his mother left a few months later after Faro and the mother had a falling out, the secretary said.

But after a series of difficulties, Kory ended up back at Faro's modest one-story Glen Burnie house in March. Neither Kory's father nor other members of the family were able to care for the boy long-term. His mother could not be reached for comment, and Faro said she has not seen or heard from the mother since the boy came to live with her.

At Faro's request, Kory's father filed his consent in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to give custody of his son to the secretary. In addition to paying child support to Faro, Eddie Heinbuck sometimes picks up his son for an afternoon or a weekend.

Heinbuck said he loves his son, but his work as a sprinkler fitter for a Virginia company has prevented him from being a full-time father. He leaves the house each morning at 5 and sometimes stays away for days on out-of-state jobs.

"I can't say I'm the best dad in the world," said Heinbuck, 31, who is staying with a friend in Glen Burnie. "I try to do the best that I can."

He said he is grateful that Faro was willing to take Kory in. "If it weren't for her, I guess he'd be in a foster home," he said. "She's done everything for him."

Kory frequently calls his father but appears to be settling into Faro's family.

On a recent afternoon, he barreled down the street on a new red bicycle a little too large for him, shrieking, "Look, Mommy!"

Faro looked on from a wooden deck on the side of her house, as she often does when he jumps on a giant trampoline in the yard or plays basketball with one of her daughters across the street.

She keeps thick files of the boy's school and medical history and some keepsakes, including the hand-drawn birthday card his father sent him in July. She has become knowledgeable about Williams syndrome and frequently talks to Kory's teacher, who says he is learning and behaving well.

This month, Faro was honored as an "angel in adoption" at a dinner organized in Washington by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. She had been selected by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, to whom she appealed for help in sorting out Kory's child-support payments.

Faro said she is willing to keep Kory as long as he does not have another permanent home. "I'd like to prepare him to be the best adult that he can be," she said.

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