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These Mothers are Grand

Older Caregivers Honored at Luncheon Yesterday

Rosalind Woodridge looks after three young people, ages 16, 18 and 20. Woodridge faces many of the same challenges that other caregivers face - and then some. The children are not hers but her daughter’s.

“Well it’s hard, because it takes a lot out of you and you have to take care of them. Not that we don’t love our grandchildren, but it’s harder when you’re older.”

“It’s very stressful, it’s very hard work,” said Maria Martinez, another grandmother raising her child’s child, a 21-year-old man with disabilities. “Even though he’s a beautiful boy, he has some medical problems....everything is struggling, a struggle.”

Martinez, Woodridge and dozens of other women were the guests of honor yesterday at a Mother’s Day luncheon held at the Salvation Army’s community center on Springfield Avenue, home of the GrandFamily Success Center, which provides services and assistance for the many Newark grandparents who find themselves raising a second generation of young people.

The ladies, many decked out in their Sunday best and a few accompanied by their young charges, received gifts of perfume and were serenaded by a Salvation Army staffer who performed classic Motown hits.

The women feted at yesterday’s luncheon - as well as grandfathers, aunts, uncles and other relations - step in to care for their youngest family members usually when a crisis makes it impossible for the children’s parents to do so. Woodridge took over child-rearing duties for the three when her daughter became sick.

Both women said the GrandFamily center has been an invaluable lifeline for them. Martinez said she gotten computer instruction through the GrandFamily program and help with routine errands like shopping. GrandFamily also serves as a call-in site, where clients who might need any manner of assistance can get connected with the appropriate agency, in addition to offering counseling.

GrandFamily also treats its clients to a weeklong camp in the summer, a short interval when they can set aside their heavy load of cares and let someone else tend to them.

“It’s a chance for us to rejuvenate ourselves,” Woodridge said.

Founded in 2009 in partnership with the Salvation Army, the state of New Jersey and the city of Newark, the local GrandFamily program was the second of its kind in the nation.

An estimated 10,000 families in Essex County are headed by older caregivers, and many of those households are located in Newark. The grandparents who step in to help are doing so to keep their strained families intact, said Philip Baldwin, a case manager for the program.

"It’s about keeping the family together. They don’t want to see these children grow up in even more dire straits,” Baldwin said. “The parents might encounter some missteps, and the grandparents don’t want to see them go down that same path.”

“They don’t have to do this,” Baldwin added. “They could just leave the kids for DYFS [the state Division of Youth and Family Services].”

Baldwin said because of that, he would like to see the program expand, but funding has been a challenge. Recently, a small, $1,000 state stipend GrandFamily used to help clients get food and clothing has been cut to just $500.

Rosario Jenkins, director of the GrandFamily Success Center, echoed Baldwin, stating that the program could use additional funding and, critically, a bus to transport seniors.

Currently, Jenkins estimates, about 35 elderly participants attend center programs daily, but the actual need is far greater.  Many of those potential clients, however, are infirm, and can’t get to the center on their own.

“We get calls every day, asking for a ride,” Jenkins said, adding that she would like to see 100 or more attending the center on a daily basis. 

“Our goal is to become an oasis for grandparents,” Jenkins said.

Many people yesterday also stressed the importance of another power, beyond money or volunteers, that helps keep the GrandFamily clients going.

“You have to keep your faith in God at all times, and he’ll get you through things,” Woodridge said. 

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