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Forum helps grandparents
Seminar offers tips for those who raise their grandchildren

LAWRENCEVILLE - For the past two years, Philip and Susan Van Gelder have been caring for three of their grandchildren.

They don't have guardianship. They don't have custody. But they still support their son and his 4-, 6- and 8-year-old girls.

"Just having enough energy is one thing," Susan Van Gelder said about the challenges of being parents a second time around. "When you're our age, you're not prepared to go through this again."

In Gwinnett County, nearly 15,000 grandparents live with their grandchildren and more than 3,500 are responsible for them, according to 2006 Census data.

Those numbers, and a desire to help senior citizens in the community, led four members of the Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute to organize a forum Saturday to help connect grandparents raising children with resources that could help them.

More than 30 grandparents attended the session at the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville.

"It's just such an important issue," team member Judy Middleton said. "When we first started, I don't think I understood the magnitude of the need."

Nancy Chambley, who has been caring for two of her grandchildren for five years, said she came to the program looking for more resources to help her. She is nearing retirement age, she said, and didn't know how to provide insurance for her grandchildren.

But despite the challenges of raising a second family, Chambley said there are advantages to spending time with her grandchildren, as well.

"It keeps me young and involved," she said. "I'm doing all this stuff that I haven't done in a lot of years, that I thought I'd never do again. ...The children are very, very loving. It's just tiring."