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Support group offers help for kids and grands

January 22, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

candiceb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY -

Aleyah Prendable shouted "See Ya!" as she ran from the living room to her bedroom, where she had been given permission to watch cartoons.

Her grandparents, Larry and Jackie May, who are raising Aleyah, did not want the exuberant 6-year-old to hear too much of the conversation they were having.

The Mays said they have been raising Aleyah since she was a baby. They filed for and, in October 2001, received full custody of the child.

Larry May, 59, said that before Aleyah came to live with them, he and his wife had thought they were finished raising children. Their daughter no longer was living at home and their son had joined the military.

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Statistics show that about 1,000 grandparents are raising children in Washington County, said Linda Crone, Washington County Commission on Aging registered nurse and program manager of a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren.

The group, called "Kids and Grands," meets monthly and includes the Mays among its regular attendees.

"I think this generation of the grandparents have been so used to taking care of everything themselves and they're reluctant to ask for help, but there's help out there," Crone said. "They don't have to do it alone."

It was a guidance counselor at Aleyah's school, Clear Spring Elementary School, who told the Mays about the support group. She also told them they were not the only grandparents raising children in the area.

Now, when Larry May drives Aleyah to school, he points out the houses where such families live.

Forced by IBM to retire earlier than he had planned, Larry May volunteers at his granddaughter's school, where some of the girl's classmates refer to him as Aleyah's father.

"Now, I'm at the point where I don't correct them," he said.




'The age thing'



There are concerns - Jackie May doesn't use the word challenges - that come with grandparents raising children.

"The age thing," Larry May said.

May was able to play ball with his son and participated in 10-kilometer runs with him.

Now, when Aleyah plays in soccer games, he does not venture onto the field as some parents do.

He remembers feeling relief when he taught her to ride a bicycle because there's a small hill outside their house. All he needed to do was get her feet on the pedals and let gravity take care of the rest; years earlier, he ran alongside bicycles while teaching his children to ride.

Jackie, who works full time at Kohl's, shrugged off similar concerns.

"He might feel the difference more than I do," she said of her husband. "I don't think I feel any different than I did when I was 30."

The Mays have had encounters surrounding custody.

Jackie May said she took Aleyah to a local medical clinic, but the staff would not allow her to see a doctor until paperwork proving the Mays had custody of the girl was faxed to the office.

Crone said that should not have happened - even without legal custody, a caregiver is allowed to enroll children in school and obtain health care for them.

Crone, who facilitates the support group meetings, raised three children and now has four grandsons. Exhaustion follows baby-sitting the boys, and Crone said she could not imagine raising children again.

Those who do find themselves in such a position share similar feelings.




For the children



"One (common concern of grandparents) is, where am I getting the energy to do this? Am I going to live long enough to see this child raised?" Crone said.

Those, however, are secondary issues.

"Their biggest concern is actually the children," she said. "They just want the child to have a stable life."

Grandparents find themselves raising a grandchild or grandchildren for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes, it's because the child's parent or parents are battling drug-related issues. In the support group, there's a grandparent raising a child because the child's single mother died. Another is raising two 13-year-old boys born to different mothers. In another case, the child's parent moved back home following a divorce.

Past support meetings have included guest speakers who addressed topics that could be helpful, including child behavioral issues, legal issues concerning custody and stress management.

Next month's guest speaker will discuss dropout prevention, and Crone said she hopes to have someone in the future talk about helping children with their homework.

To keep up with the need Crone believes exists, she said the program could be expanded. Having a daytime meeting is possible for grandparents unable to attend the evening session, and Crone said having more than one group based on geography could be beneficial.

The support group meets on the first Tuesday of each month, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with the next meeting scheduled for Feb. 7 at Otterbein United Methodist Church, 108 E. Franklin St., Hagerstown.

Meetings typically are at Covenant United Presbyterian Church, 11833 Greenhill Drive, Hagerstown, which will be the site of the meetings in March and April.

In May, an outing is planned to Discovery Station in Hagerstown.

Monthly meetings begin with a family dinner. Afterward, child care is provided and children participate in activities geared toward them.

The meetings are open not only to grandparents, but to other caregivers who find themselves raising a family member's child or children. Crone asked that those who plan to attend RSVP to ensure enough food is available.

Transportation is available if needed.

To RSVP or for more information about the support group, call Crone at 301-790-0275, ext. 219, or Elizabeth at the Washington County Department of Social Services at 240-420-2297.

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