Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program works to stay connected

LONDON: Five per cent of Grandparents have full time custody of their grandchildren said Lisa Grodsky.

Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency (OLHSA) is a Community Action Agency (CAA) located in Pontiac. Our agency was formed in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. We serve residents of Oakland and Livingston County, and are one of over 25 CAAs in Michigan. The goal of a CAA is to help people to help themselves and others by providing them with the knowledge, skills, and resources to do so. Our mission is to break the cycles of poverty so families in our communities can thrive and enjoy a better quality of life.

As the program operations manager at OLHSA, I manage our Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group. Within our health, housing and nutrition division, I work to assist grandparents who are caring for children because their biological parents are unable to do so. This is often referred to as kinship care, and can be a temporary or permanent situation.
When I started in this role in 2013, I worked with about 40 grandparents per year in Oakland County. Our program has grown immensely since then, and today serves 120 families.

During COVID-19, we’ve had to overcome new challenges in order to provide for our families. Our support group that meets each month includes workshops and presentations led by professionals who specialize in topics our grandparents find interesting and helpful to their new situation. Since the lockdown, we haven’t met together in-person, but have shifted our meetings onto Zoom. We’ve had to learn together how to use this new method to reach our goals, but the virtual platform has helped us connect with even more people. We now have viewers checking out our programs and growing with us from all over the country.

The pandemic has caused many of our grandparents to need food assistance. While their grandchildren were learning from home, they struggled to provide increased meals and snacks previously given through school programs. Many of our seniors were also afraid to go to the grocery store. We were glad to be able to refer them to Oakland and Macomb Counties where, for some time, residents 60 and up had free enrollment to Shipt for local grocery delivery.

Besides our support group, we’ve greatly missed being able to gather for our program’s intergenerational activities. Because the age gap between our grandparents and the children they care for is typically quite wide, we try to find fun activities for them to enjoy together. We’ve hosted trips to see the Detroit Tigers play, to visit the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, to go fishing, play at county parks and beaches, and even attend a three-day camping experience at Camp Cavell in Lexington.

During COVID-19, we’ve tried to supplement these in-person activities with different drive-thru events. In this way, we’ve celebrated Christmas, Easter and the back-to-school season together. Our intergenerational virtual program has also teamed up with the Detroit Institute of Arts to provide families with activities they can do at home using everyday objects to create their works of art. We will share these through our virtual art exhibition.

It’s important for us to stay connected to our families during this difficult time. Many of our grandparents have expressed how this program has given them a much needed sense of community, and helped them to feel supported and happy knowing they aren’t alone. The thank you letters and kind words we receive from families on a regular basis lets us know that our presence is needed and valued in our communities.

We still face challenges when it comes to obtaining grants. We’re often denied our requests with no real explanation or guidance on what’s prevented our approval. This can be heartbreaking because it seems like a no-brainer to us that people would want to help our children and the relatives who care for them. We’re very thankful to have partnerships with organizations like the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, a nonprofit that provides seniors, people with disabilities, and family caregivers in Southeast Michigan with direct care programs, as well as funding and support for community partner organizations like OLHSA.

We’re also thankful to have received support last fall from the local nonprofit, Impact 100 Oakland County. This has funded our Gigabytes for Grand-families project, providing 20-25 Grandparents Raising Grandchildren with a computer, internet service and 24 months of technical training. We started this project because many of our grandparents weren’t even using cell phones, and so needed a lot of help navigating a virtual world and virtual learning. Qualified families are residents of Oakland County who have a formal kinship caregiver arrangement and show financial need for technology assistance.

The work OLHSA does can make a big difference in a family’s life. I know this because I’ve experienced that help firsthand. When I was pregnant with my second child and my husband was out of work, OLHSA came to our rescue. They provided a free Head Start program for our oldest child and helped me with referrals and resources for my family. This made me want to volunteer here, which I did for three years. In 2005, I started my career at OLHSA. Being familiar with this organization on a personal level and knowing all of the good things we do for our families is why I’m passionate about what I do.