Raising your grandchildren a grand task

I love spending time with my grandkids. It's so much fun picking them up for a few hours to hang out at the mall, sip gooey mocha javas or relax with a 50-cent foot massage at Discover Mills. Of course, part of what makes it fun for me is that I can schedule these little events whenever I want to fit them into my life.

Some grandparents don't have that luxury. For various reasons, more than 5,000 grandparents in Gwinnett are raising their grandchildren and must fit them into their lives 24/7. "Jane" and "Joe" are among them.

Jane and Joe have been raising their four grandchildren for nearly 20 years. In the late '80s DFCS placed the children in foster care, but Jane asked to care for them to keep them close to the family, even though it meant quitting her job as a nurse to raise them. Joe has had a steady income, but even with food stamps and a monthly DFCS check, their savings were depleted within five months.

"I shopped at thrift stores and received lots of hand-me-downs, but kids today are so brand conscious," said Jane. "I wish schools would use uniforms so the kids could relax about clothes and focus more on things that don't cost money."

In the early years, the grandchildren were still considered foster children and even though Jane and Joe were supporting them, they had no rights concerning decisions about their welfare. In 2001 they adopted all four children, but then lost all financial assistance and found themselves getting deeper into debt.

Jane searched both the county and the state for financial assistance for people in her situation, but so far has found none.

"I even wrote to Oprah and Montell Williams hoping they could find ways to help. I haven't heard from Oprah, but I did get a note from Montell," she said.

With two of the children graduated, and two in high school, Jane, now age 62, has been able to resume her nursing career. "This isn't how I thought I'd be spending my golden years, but I don't regret taking my grandchildren out of foster care, and I really encourage other grandparents to do the same if the need arises. However, it is not easy and I just wish there was more support out there."

Jane's wish may be coming true. At 10 a.m. Saturday any grandparents in Jane's situation can attend the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Forum at First United Methodist Church in Lawrenceville. Sponsored by the Fast Trackers Group of the Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute, the forum will feature a panel of professionals to provide information and resources to grandparents in the legal, educational, emotional, health-related, and financial fields.

The event, which includes free babysitting for children over age 2, will include a Q&A session and an opportunity for grandparents to network with each other. The Fast Trackers also hope to set up a program for respite care, so grandparents can at least take a break for a few hours, and maybe even relax with one of those 50-cent foot massages at the mall.

The event is free, but RSVP is required. Call 770-455-7602 ext. 103. For more information call Millie Linville at 404-514-0814 or visit www.gnli.org