What can you do when you’re raising your child’s child; you don’t believe in spanking; you don’t have a car; you don’t have the energy or strength you had 20 or 30 years ago; and you’re on a fixed income? Where can you go? Who can you talk to?
|PROUD GRANDPARENTS—Barbara Witherspoon, left, is founder of “It takes more than love.” With her is Betty Brown.
These are the kinds of questions that motivated Barbara Witherspoon to get together with two other Wilkinsburg-area grandmothers in 2004 to discuss how they could help others facing the same challenges while raising their children’s children, which led to the establishment of “It Takes More Than Love: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.”
“We get together [once a month] to provide social and emotional support for each other,” said Witherspoon in an interview during the organization’s first annual Grandparents’ Day celebration cookout during Grandparents Month last month. The event took place at Mellon Park in Point Breeze.
But the organization provides more than moral support. Members help each other with transportation by car pooling, and when possible, presenters from area healthcare organizations come in and talk about how grandparents can keep themselves and their grandchildren fit and healthy. Additionally, the group wants “to get knowledge, education…life skills” for grandparents who find themselves raising newborn babies for the first time in years and need to learn how to care for them. Others are unfamiliar with the school system and have to learn anew how to enroll a child in school. Another goal is to find legal professionals to come in and educate members about the legalities involved in raising their grandchildren. Collaboration with other organizations like Community Connections for Families, a mental health organization, and with other communities to pool their resources and assist more grandparents in the Pittsburgh area is also an important goal.
“We want to bring in more grandparents, get more organized,” said co-founder Betty Brown, who is raising her daughter’s two children, one a seven-year-old and the other, a two-year-old. “We need a place to hold our meetings, preferably a place with a kitchen and a room where we can have our meetings,” said Brown, who looks like the traditional grandmother with grey hair, glasses and a sweet smile. The organization has recently been having their meetings through the auspices of Second Chance, Inc.
The Grandparents’ Day celebration served many functions like recognizing grandparents in the Pittsburgh area and bringing awareness of the organization to the public and making them aware of what resources are available. It also served as a venue for discussing how to write a proposal and apply for funding so they can provide additional resources like bus tickets or a van to help members who need transportation.
For that day’s fund-raising raffle, an afghan and an Italian food basket were donated as prizes by the Wilkinsburg community. In addition to refreshments, the 2009 “Wilkinsburg Idol” winner, Sharon Littlejohn, performed two inspirational mime routines. Littlejohn, who has volunteered for the group since the beginning, also volunteered one year at Johnston Elementary School, spending one month with children in each grade level, teaching them proper table manners, which ended their throwing food in the cafeteria and possibly resulted in better table manners at home, too.
The organization has tried unsuccessfully to obtain grant money, but members remain undeterred. They plan to try again in 2010. “We’ll explore and find out what our options are,” Brown smiled.
“We’re in the beginning stages,” said Witherspoon, who has been raising her 11-year-old granddaughter, Janera Tooks, since the girl was two. With close-cropped blonde hair and chocolate colored skin, Witherspoon is a lively grandmother, who seems to have none of the usual obstacles that other members encounter.
“It’s been fun,” said Tooks. “We do the same things we would do if she were younger.” Tooks stated that she helps her grandmother with cooking, cleaning and yard work. She offers this advice to other children being raised by their grandparents, “they should listen more and help more without being told to help.”