Parents the second time around: When grandparents raise grandchildren

By Cliff Gorski
Executive Editor
The Catholic Accent

WHITNEY – October 28, 2022
– One in 10 grandparents has been the primary support of a grandchild at some point in their lives. Pennsylvania ranks seventh among the 50 states in the number of children under 18 living in a grandparent-headed household.

Those numbers, gathered by Penn State Extension five years ago, point to an unexpected, life-changing trend for seniors.

“We have a tremendous problem with opioid addiction in this area,” said Benedictine Father James F. Podlesny, Pastor of the partner parishes of St. Cecilia in Whitney and Sacred Heart in Youngstown. “With so many families with opioid crises, you don’t really think about what happens to the family. There are just so many of these parents who are incarcerated or incapacitated, incompetent or have died. Who’s going to take their children? It’s the grandparent.”

Oftentimes, the caregiver is a single grandparent on a fixed income. Added to the financial and legal complications they face are the societal changes that have occurred since they were parents.

“All of the things that they dealt with years ago are all different now,” Father Podlesny said.

In 2019, in an effort to become a resource of information and support, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren began. The group was formed through an ecumenical collaboration between Trinity Lutheran Church in Latrobe and the two parishes. Monthly meetings rotate between the churches.

Kathy Ferlin is a retired teacher from the Greater Latrobe School District, where she worked with the federal Title I program that  aids students struggling with poverty, homelessness and isolation as obstacles to their education. She found that more and more grandparents were seeking assistance. She and her husband, Mark, wanted to work together to help. Kathy is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church;  Mark is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish studying to become a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Greensburg and is serving at Holy Trinity Parish in Ligonier. They knew it was time to get their churches involved.

“It’s not only an energy issue at that age but a financial one,” said Kathy, who serves as the support group’s chairperson.

At many meetings, grandparents gather to just share experiences and let off steam, she said.

“There is nobody for them to talk to,” she said. “Their friends, who aren’t raising grandkids, have no idea what they’re going through, and their grandchildren’s friends’ parents are 40 to 50 years younger and don’t have anything in common.”

On a recent fall evening, grandparents and their grandchildren were warmly welcomed to St. Cecilia Parish’s social hall by Father Podlesny and volunteers. At each meeting, families receive a hot dinner; afterward, the grandparents gather for a program while the children enjoy an activity, supervised by Saint Vincent College students. On this particular night, Catholic Charities’ Melaney Hegyes, Managing Director, and Donna Hagan, Director of Information and Referral Services, provided information on the resources available to the grandparents.

Many grandparents were not aware that Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Greensburg can help them with utility bills, housing, clothing, baby supplies, glasses and, in some cases, prescription refills.

“We want you to know that we are ready to help you,” Hegyes said. “You can call us for assistance during regular business hours, and we have a 24-hour help line after hours, so please don’t feel as though you are alone as you care for your grandchildren.”

Father Podlesny hopes the program can be duplicated across the Diocese. For now, any area grandparents or extended family caring for children, regardless of religious affiliation, are invited to attend. For meeting dates and times, contact Kathy Ferlin at 724-875-8301.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is funded through donations from individuals and organizations. Donations can be sent to Lori Rullo, Financial Secretary, Trinity Lutheran Church, 331 Weldon St., Latrobe, Pa. 15650


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