Recognizing the sacrifices of nations
by Sherrie Norris
It doesn't receive the
same fanfare as Mother's Day or Father's Day, but for the last 33 years, National Grandparents Day
has been observed on the first Sunday following Labor Day.
Proclaimed as such by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the idea for such an
occasion originated with Marian McQuade, a West Virginia housewife whose primary motivation was to
champion the cause of lonely elderly individuals in nursing homes. She also hoped to persuade
grandchildren to tap into the priceless wisdom and heritage their grandparents have to
You might say McQuade's mission is being accomplished,
but perhaps not in the way she envisioned.
According to Brenda
Reece, family caregiver support specialist with High Country Area Agency on Aging, the number of
grandparents and other relatives raising children is becoming more common.
Reece cites statistics from AARP, which estimate that 4.5 million children
are being raised in households headed by grandparents -- with more than 135,000 of those in North
Carolina. In Watauga County, there are 422 grandparent-headed households and 367 in
Most grandparents raising grandchildren are between the
ages of 54 and 65, Reece said, representing all socio-economic groups; the majority has been forced
into the caregiving roles due to divorce, neglect, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, the death or
illness of the parents, incarceration, unemployment, domestic, alcohol or drug abuse or
"They have all of the same responsibilities that parents do," she said, "including providing social, economic and emotional support, but often with added pressures, such as a fixed income or health problems that come with age."
When relatives, particularly grandparents, take on a parental role, it
affects many aspects of their lives, Reece said.
She said many
face added stress due to concerns about their own health and finances, housing, medical care for
the child. Grandparents also deal with loss of time for themselves, shattered dreams of retirement,
changes in social life and various levels of emotional turmoil they may experience, including
anger, resentment, fear, exhaustion, grief and shame.
a young child when you're in your 30s or 40s can be exhausting enough, "let alone in your mid-50s
or 60s," she said.
All caregivers must take care of
themselves as a first priority, Reece said, noting regular exercise, proper nutrition and regular
check-ups as "a must."
Additionally, she said, "They also need
to reach out to other grandparents who are raising grandchildren as a source of support, feedback
and practical suggestions on how to deal with day-to-day life. They also need to connect with the
parents of their grandchild's friends at school and become part of that community."
As a result of the increased
number of grandparents raising grandchildren, Reece said, state legislatures, public and private
agencies and grassroots coalitions in North Carolina and across the nation have begun to expand
services and supports for children living with kin.
kinship caregivers in dealing with the multitude of challenges they face, Reece said, the High
Country Relatives As Parents Program was established in 2008, in conjunction with the High Country
Area Agency on Aging's Family Caregiver Support Program and the High Country Caregiver
"High Country RAPP is the region's first program
exclusively for grandparents raising grandchildren and other relatives who have taken on the
responsibility of surrogate parenting," Reece said. "Our vision is to be recognized in the High
Country as the leading resource for providing support, education and advocacy for kinship care
families. The primary goal of the program is to build a social network for kinship caregivers, who
often don't know where to look for services, support or companionship."
Program initiatives include a resource lending library, financial assistance with
legal fees, school- related expenses (end of year field trips, school supplies, school dances,
etc.); recreational activities (summer camps, parks and recreation programs, scouts, etc.); Holiday
for Kids (annual holiday party and toy drive) and monthly support group meetings.
One of the organization's newest projects, Reece said, is an annual National
Grandparents Day breakfast, held at several public schools in Avery and Watauga
Support for the program includes monies from
fundraising efforts, donations from area churches, grants from local utility companies and civic
clubs, support from the National Family Caregiver Program and the High Country Area Agency on
Aging, and in-kind support from the NC Family Caregiver Support Program. Additionally,
through collaboration with the local chapters of Toys for Tots, High Country Council of Governments
staff and the "Everyday Elves," each child received several age-appropriate gifts for the Holiday
for Kids Program.
Reece commended local businesses,
including Boone Bowling Center, Chick-Fil-A, Grandfather Mountain, Mystery Hill, Subway and
Tweetsie Railroad, for providing free food and passes for families enrolled in the
"Our goal is to provide grandparents, and other relatives
raising minor children, with support services and resources to assist them in their efforts to
successfully raise the children in their care," she said.
Community support is vital to the success of the program, Reece said. "In these
economic downtimes, many grandparent-headed families and other relative caregivers are experiencing
difficulties paying for basic needs of the children in their care, not to mention opportunities
for activities such as organized sports and scouting which help to improve children's' self-esteem
Other needs, she said, include assistance
purchasing legal services, school related expenses, recreational activities and adequate clothing.
"RAPP also provides both the children and the relative
caregivers an opportunity to meet others who are in similar situations and prospects of
collaborating with each other on things such as transportation and child care," she said.
Upon admission to the program and at six- month intervals,
participants complete a needs assessment and caregiver-stress survey. Completed assessments and
surveys are sent to Appalachian State University for evaluation of program effectiveness.
High Country RAPP has no paid staff; all program
administrative costs are covered by High Country Area Agency on Aging. Two volunteers and two
social work interns assist with the monthly meetings and provide supervision and activities for the
children, allowing the relative caregivers an opportunity to openly discuss their situations and
"Relatives are often best suited to give children,
whose birth parents are unable to care for them, the love, stability and support they need to grow
and thrive," Reece said. "I am pleased that High Country RAPP can offer kinship caregivers this
resource, which will help provide stability for the children and needed support for the
caregivers, often with the least disruption to the family structure."
"It is important to know that they are not alone," Reece said about those family caregivers. "There are thousands of others in the same situation. High Country RAPP offers a wide range of programs and services to assist their efforts to successfully parent the children in their care."
If you are a grandparent raising a minor grandchild, residing in the High Country, and are interested in learning more about RAPP, contact Reece by calling (828) 265-5434, ext. 128 or emailing (firstname.lastname@example.org)