Grandmothers doing a tough job (again)
By DEBORAH HIRSCH
ST. PETERSBURG -- After bringing up four children, 58-year-old Annie Keith is at it again. Now retired, Mrs. Keith is caring for four of her grandchildren.
"I wouldn't want my (grand)children in foster care if I could see about them myself," she said. "I'm trying to keep the family together."
Mrs. Keith is one of about 35 grandmothers raising grandchildren in a local support group who gathered for a recognition day Saturday at the Sanderlin Center, on 22nd Avenue S.
"Can you imagine being 75, getting about $500 a month to live on, being on dialysis every day and raising an 8- or 9-year-old?" said Marti Zeitz, the support group program coordinator. "That's the way it is for many of these people. I am awed by the love that they have and how that continues to give them energy in some way."
The grandmothers honored Saturday are in a group sponsored by Catholic Charities and the University of South Florida Kinship Support Center. They are part of a trend. In 2000, grandparents were caring for about 260,000 children, a 33 percent increase since 1990, according to U.S. Census reports. Many took charge after a birth parent was found guilty of substance abuse or neglect.
Burnell Davis, 67, has raised one of her granddaughters since she was born of a drug-addicted mother. The infant weighed less than 2 pounds.
"I said that baby is going to live to show somebody something," Ms. Davis said.
Positioned around tables decorated with star-shaped balloons, the women listened to guest speakers between interruptions from the 60 grandchildren darting in and out of the room. While the children played with volunteers, their grandmothers heard presentations on anger management, attention deficit disorder, food stamp eligibility and custody rights.
After a motivational speech in the late afternoon, the children presented their grandparents with roses. In return, their guardians pinned buttons on the children proclaiming, "I am loved."
The all-day event finished with a performance by a church youth choir, a prize raffle and a prayer circle.
Support groups for grandparents raising children have become popular in the past five years, said Brent Elrod, Florida Kinship Center statewide coordinator. Pinellas County is home to three of Florida's 29 support groups for families raising relatives.
"It's really hard because you don't have the energy you had in raising your own kids, especially if you don't have anybody helping you," said Pat Howard, 57, who was raised by her grandparents and now cares for two grandchildren. "That's why it's so good to have a support group. Everybody in here is just like family."
Besides providing guest speakers with advice on parenting and legal and financial issues, the support groups offer grandparents a chance to discuss their lives. Often they share frustration about their children, whose failings might have forced them to go back to work in order to care for the grandchildren, Elrod said. For many families a big problem is bridging the gap between two generations, Zeitz said.
"Today, everything is harder, even school," Mrs. Keith said. "To help them with the schoolwork is really a challenge."
About 40 families are actively involved in the St. Petersburg support group. Members in their 50s to late 70s meet three Mondays a month at the Sanderlin Center and at St. Joseph's Parish Hall.
Staff members at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic started the group 10 years ago after noticing a number of elderly women bringing children to their medical appointments.
For more information, contact Catholic Charities at 893-1313.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
South Pinellas desks