How congregations can help
"Nearly everybody knows someone who is raising their grandchildren," says Connie Booth, a kinship care expert who works with grandparents parenting grandchildren for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. She suggests these ways individuals and congregations can help.
• Make acceptance, not judgment, the rule for grandparents and grandchildren. "Remember, this could happen to any of us," Booth says. "It crosses all socioeconomic and ethnic bonds."
• Invite grandparents and grandchildren to church activities. "Faith is an important issue for most grandparents we deal with," she says. "It's what's supported them all along."
• Find out how many grandparents are raising grandchildren in your state. Fact sheets are available at www.gu.org/projg&ostates.htm.
• Start a support group or offer meeting space, goodies or volunteer child care to an existing group. "Especially in a small town, it can be hard to bring grandparent caregivers out of the woodwork if they feel guilty or uncomfortable with coming to a support group," Booth says. She and her colleagues first offer nonthreatening events such as an educational workshop, legal forum, carnival or picnic.
• Offer respite and care. "Many grandparents don't have anyone to offer to watch the kids for a day or a weekend," Booth says. A congregation or youth group could sponsor a "Grandparent's Day Away" once a month.
It's been a long day on Chicago's West Side. This morning Grandma Clara Kirkendall put Joshua, 6, on the bus for the local public school, where he receives special services for his autism. The former teacher then walked Zackary, 11, Seaniqua, 10, and Thomas, 4, to Bethel (Lutheran) Christian School. And she spent the morning volunteering there, transitioning to lunch lady a little before noon
But this Wednesday after lunch, the woman affectionately known as "Ms. K" throws on her coat and hurries next door to Bethel Lutheran Church. She wouldn't miss her grandmothers' group for anything. In fact, she never has.
Downstairs in the church basement, eight grandmothers gather around a table and snacks. They come here two Wednesdays a month, thirsty for support and encouragement in parenting their grandchildren.
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