In 1998, Dana and Kevelin Kinamore found themselves unexpectedly taking on the responsibility of raising two of their grandchildren.
"While we are truly thankful that we were in a position to be able to raise our grandchildren, I would be lying if I told you it hasn't been challenging," said Dana Kinamore. "To know that our daughter was in town and wanted nothing to do with her children was painful. We certainly didn't raise her to act like this.
"It was hurtful to see our grandchildren hold on to the hope that one day their mom would return for them. Friends started asking, 'Where are your parents? Why do your grandparents come to everything?' Our grandchildren were embarrassed."
There are about 4 million children living in the United States in a home where grandparents or other relatives take primary responsibility for raising them. And while most relative caregivers like the Kinamores say they're thankful they can be there to help, the issues of finances, education, work, health and housing are very real with few resources available to assist them in their efforts.
"When we took our grandchildren in, the only real resource we knew we had was our oldest son and our other daughter," said Dana Kinamore. "They stepped up to the plate and assisted us financially, emotionally and physically. They were and are our respite care."
Catherine Pippin, program manager for the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability, says lack of resources is the biggest issue most of nonparental caregivers face, strides have been made to help.
"In the last 10 years, we have been working to address this void through our Relative Caregiver Program, which helps support relatives who have taken on the responsibility of raising related children who are not in the custody of the state," she says. "Children and relatives receive supportive services such as information and referral, support groups, Recreation and Enrichment, Family Advocacy, Educational Workshops, Case Management and Emergency Start-up Financial Assistance."
In an effort to help those who find themselves raising children other than their own, the Relative Caregiver Program and the City of Chattanooga's Youth and Family Development Centers, in partnership with First Things First, are sponsoring an interactive workshop on May 20. Psychologist Lenora Poe, author and expert on this topic, will be the keynote speaker.
Workshop participants also will have the opportunity to attend breakout sessions on topics such as technology, keeping your cool in the midst of chaos and dealing with the unique challenges of raising children other than your own.
"I would have loved to have had something like this when we started down this road," said Dana Kinamore. "There were many times when we felt very alone, embarrassed, guilty and even angry, and had no idea where to turn. Resources like this workshop are invaluable, and I would encourage anybody who finds themselves in this situation to figure out a way to participate. It is encouraging to know you aren't the only one and we can learn from each other."
The Kinamores' grandchildren are now 18 and 16. Their grandson graduates from high school this spring and has a full scholarship to Tennessee State University.
For more information about the workshop, visit www.firstthings.org.
Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.