Raising children is hard in the first place, and for some older residents in Sampson County, finding themselves back in the saddle after raising their own has proven to be difficult, even though it is a labor of love.
Down at the Department of Aging in Clinton, Grandparents raising grandkids meet each month to gain knowledge, enjoy each other’s company, and find support to augment their sometimes limited resources.
Lorie Sutton, director of the Sampson County Department of Aging and In-Home Services, said that the program is National Family Caregiver Support Program and is funded by the Older American’s Act.
“The program helps people who serve as unpaid caregivers,” the director said. The program’s goal is to help relieve the emotional, financial, and physical hardship of providing continual care for their loved ones. The five areas they cover include information and outreach, access to services, training, counseling and support, and respite care.
“We offer training workshops, lunch and learns, and seminars,” stated Sutton. Training includes topics like discipline, legal issues, financial benefits, or dealing with emotions like anger, stress, guilt or resentment. Stress was the topic of the February meeting, and Angela Faircloth took time to work with the group on breathing technique for relaxation.
“It’s all about who I choose to handle (stress),” explained Faircloth. She recommends using things like meditation, tai chi, and breathing to help relax. Talking about their concerns during the meeting was also something that helped them foster their relationships further.
“Counseling and support goes together in the meetings,” Sutton added. She said that parenting is a hard job, and it is even harder when you get older.
“They meet the fourth Wednesday every month at 10:30 in the morning at the Sampson County Department of Aging,” clarified Sutton. “The program is for caregivers 55 or older with children under the age of 18.”
“We come every month unless something comes up,” said Linda Justice, one of the grandparents. “They have helped us at Christmas, given us food, clothes for the kids. This Christmas they got (the kids) what they wanted. William Justice, her husband, said that the kids received things like a television, bike, and a big baby doll. The Justices are raising their daughter’s three children, two girls and a boy.
“They need support for one another,” Sutton said.
That support means a lot to Sonja McNeill, another participant. She has been involved with the program for four or five years, she said.
“I’m not in this alone,” divulged McNeill. “We all have the same problems with our children. This is a place for togetherness, to socialize and talk. We know we are here for each other.”
“Our biggest thing is learning resources outside of Social Services,” added McNeill. “I thank God for the program. It’s not the big things; it’s somebody caring we’re here.
She also said that physical limitations can put a strain on things.
“It’s hard to get children to understand I’m not as young as them, and I can’t go like them,” detailed McNeill.
One of the special opportunities offered through the program is a bit of respite care for the grandparents.
“We care so the caregiver can get away,” explained Sutton. “We pay for a few kids to go to a week-long camp in the summer.”
Sutton also mentioned that it’s a resource not just for grandparents, but for other relatives in the same situation, but those selected must meet the criteria. A great aunt, for instance, would be eligible as long as she met the main criteria.
Sarah Rhodes took in her kids as babies, she said. She has high blood pressure, asthma, and other medical concerns that make it hard.
“God is going to make a way,” Rhodes expressed. “If I’m not sick, I am going to drag into this room. I wouldn’t take nothing in the world for this place; I’m making it.” For those kids, she’s the primary caregiver, as has been since they were born.
“The caregiver has to live with the children and be the primary caregiver,” added Sutton. “They also have to have a legal relationship (with the children) such as custody or guardianship.”
One other program that the families really benefit from is their Christmas gifts. At Christmas the children’s gift wishes are adopted out, giving the caregivers much needed help and relief for providing during an already stretched time of year.
“We adopt the grandchildren out to help with gifts,” explained Sutton. “We either get them (the gifts) or get the money for them.” Sutton said that whole program is a great.
“We get to be there for them and offer them emotional support as well,” Sutton mentioned enthusiastically. “As much as the grandparents need a break, the kids do too. Some of the kids have been involved for five or more years she added.
“This program is a Godsend,” said Carol Cox. “I enjoy the fellowship of the people, the chance to relax and share problems. I am just so thankful. Without it I don’t know what I would do sometimes.”
“We have 14 grandparents in the program right now, with 28 kids, and several (families) are raising four or more,” divulged Sutton. Dorothy Scrivner is raising three grand kids right now, and she said that this program has been a great blessing for her. She said that they have helped with Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.
“I have seen the hand of God moving through His people,” said Scrivner. “These people are going through the same things you are.” She said that with her limited income the program has helped take away some of the burden.
“It’s hard for the kids to understand that their wants come after their needs are supplied,” added Sonja McNeill.
“At Christmas time (the families) are already on a fixed income,” said Sutton. “They all want to give (the kids) presents and they are not getting help from other sources. If it wasn’t for the graciousness of people in Sampson County these kids would be going without Christmas.”
“When the grandparents show up to get the presents, they are in tears,” Sutton offered. “The (donors) have never laid eyes on these people, and they freely give. We are all in tears.”
“It means a lot to be able to help them in that way,” added Sutton. “We also have a clothes closet where people can donate gently used and new clothes. A lot of the grandparents have utilized that.”
Sutton said she really appreciates the kindness of people who make those donations, and she said that anytime someone wants to they can come down to the Department of Aging and donate clothes or money, plus there is the opportunity to volunteer time and make presentation topics. Other chances to help include at Thanksgiving, through food donations.
The program is free of charge, and Sutton said that there are many that are not on the program, and they are welcome to come.
“Offering support to grandparents is a big help,” said Sutton.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at email@example.com.