A few weeks ago, I served on the Allocations Committee of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, an awesome organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of generational poverty for women and girls in Atlanta, a city with the terrible distinction of being the poorest in the nation for children. Our job was to help determine which community groups would be awarded more than $400,000 in donated AWF funds. Much as I love spending Other Philanthropists’ Money, the total high point of the venture was the day our group made a site visit to Project Healthy Grandparents at Georgia State University.
Started in 1995 by Dr. Susan Kelley (the rock star dean of GSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences), Project Healthy Grandparents was created to support and empower the 37,000 grandparents who are raising their grandchildren in the Atlanta metro area. From her days as a pediatric nurse at the Public Hospital in Boston, Kelley has had a passion for studying child abuse, which led her to get her Masters and PhD in developmental psychology. Increasingly, she saw that parents undergoing substance abuse, child abuse and incarceration would abandon their children to the care of their elderly parents – who were often struggling financially, in poor health, and overwhelmed with the job of raising another generation of children. So Kelley decided to do something to help.
Using student research assistants, social workers and RN’s from undergraduate and graduate GSU programs, Project Healthy Grandparents works to keep grandparents healthy emotionally, physically and psychologically – so they can be there for their grandchildren. The PHG team conducts monthly visits with the grandmothers (97% of caregivers are women) to test and treat them for diabetes, stress, hypertension and depression. The program also offers support groups and parenting classes to help grandmothers deal with the children’s emotional and developmental issues, and to share issues and ideas –something every parent (certainly me!) can use.
In our visit with Dr. Susan Kelley and her remarkable staff, two grandmothers who’d been through the PHG program shared their stories–and brought our entire visiting delegation to tears. One grandmother, whose grandson just graduated and is off to college, told us that after a full day’s work she still took two buses to get to the parenting classes every week –they were that precious to her. The other grandmother, who is raising three girls, including one who is disabled due to severe abuse, broke down when she talked about how grateful she was for the PHG support and encouragement, and how she wished it were available to every grandparent in her situation.
I couldn’t agree more. When you consider the cost & trauma of over 423,000 children being placed in foster care nationally… then think that twice that many kids are being raised (with virtually no support) by their grandparents, you have to believe these courageous, stalwart older people have earned a helping hand. It’s a societal shame that we aren’t doing more for these grandmothers– but the day the Georgia legislature brings that to the table, I’ll spit my grits. Meanwhile, hundreds of grandmothers are patiently waiting for a place on PHG’s roster.
Since 1995, Dr. Susan Kelley’s beautiful program has brought health and hope to grandparents, (more than 600 families and 1,375 children) while giving GSU students a real-life, hands-on experience in their chosen field. Talk about a win/win! To support Project Healthy Grandparents, click here! And to donate to Atlanta Women’s Foundation (who made a big grant to PHG) click here!