Over the past decade, the number of children living in a grandparent’s home has increased significantly, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Although most grandparents have said they gain much happiness from this situation, it can often lead to trouble with finances, communication or emotional capability. In Richmond County, grandparents raising grandchildren can seek help through a monthly support group at the Hamlet Senior Center.
GrandFacts, a study in partnership with AARP, The Brookdale Foundation Group, Casey Family Programs, Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Defense Fund, and Generations United, reports that 90,093 children in North Carolina live in homes with grandparent householders where grandparents are responsible for them, and of these children, 38,941 have no parents present in the home.
“The problem with these caregivers seems to be that they don’t get enough support and don’t know how to find resources that can help them financially, legally and in terms of health,” said Sarah Mammerella, group facilitator.
The support group meets on the last Thursday of every month at the Hamlet Senior Center. Subjects discussed this year will include how to create living wills, financial entitlements, healthy living and more.
Ruth Bell of Rockingham has been participating in the group for nearly two years, and presently cares for her two granddaughters, ages 11 and 20.
“(The group) shows us how to do things that we wouldn’t know how to go about,” Bell said, “like how to get a free lawyer to help with your wills if you want to make a will, or getting legal custody of your grandchildren.”
Bell said she has cared for her granddaughters since they were 2. The eldest is a student at Richmond Community College, and the younger of the two still spends a lot of time at home.
“All of my friends have grandchildren, but their grandchildren are with their (parents),” Bell said. “If I go someplace, there’s no one for an 11-year-old to play with, and it’s kind of boring for her. It’s hard, but I can’t help that. She understands, though — I sit and I talk with her.”
Despite the age gap, Bell and her granddaughter have a good rapport with one another, she said.
“We go to church together and I help her with her homework,” Bell said. “We go out to eat whenever we can afford to. We’ll sit down and we’ll watch movies together — sometimes we compromise if she wants to watch something tonight and tomorrow night we’ll watch what Grandma wants to watch … She’s also learning to cook. When I start to cook, she’s right in the kitchen with me. She’s very good at it.”
Annie Covington, 69, of Ellerbe, also attends the support group as she works to raise her great-grandchildren, an 8-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.
“I’ve gotten good information and (the group) has helped me a lot,” Covington said.
Covington said she has raised her great-grandchildren for their whole lives.
“They were born in my house — then their mom left them,” she said. “We went to court and I got legal custody of both of them.”
Covington’s relationship with her great-grandchildren has always been a strong one, she said.
“We communicate really well,” she said. “My grandson, he’s ADHD, and before I got him on medication, he wasn’t focusing on school and we had trouble … Then the doctor diagnosed him and put him on medicine and he’s doing fine now.”
Although her great-grandchildren are still young, Covington said she can already see her grandson maturing.
“My grandson wants stuff that I can’t buy,” she said. “I’m retired, I’m drawing Social Security … a lot of the stuff that he wants I can’t get for him, and that makes me sad and nervous. But then I sit down and explain to him that I can’t buy him everything he wants … They don’t know anything about anybody else, just me. I don’t have any companions, I don’t have a boyfriend — it’s just me and the children.”
Covington said raising her great-grandchildren has been a lot of work, but the support group has helped her talk with others like her and offers her the assistance she needs.
“I had both of my knees replaced and I still can take care of my children and myself,” she said. “I cook, I wash — and I’m teaching the youngest how to take baths on her own. We’re doing good. I know I’m all they’ve got, so I’m very happy with them, and they act like they’re happy with me, too.”
The next support meeting will be held Oct. 25 at the Hamlet Senior Center, located at 202 Lakeside Drive in Hamlet. For more information, call 910-582-7985.
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at email@example.com