ROCK grandparents finding support with new group

ROCK leaders Dr. Carla MacDonald (left) and Liz Godts show one of the resource materials used in the ROCK (Raising Our Children’s Kids) support group, which meets every other Wednesday at Trinity United Methodist Church, in Huntington. The group is open to anyone who has found themselves in the position of raising their grandchildren.
ROCK leaders Dr. Carla MacDonald (left) and Liz Godts show one of the resource materials used in the ROCK (Raising Our Children’s Kids) support group, which meets every other Wednesday at Trinity United Methodist Church, in Huntington. The group is open to anyone who has found themselves in the position of raising their grandchildren. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Older adults who find themselves suddenly the caretakers of their children’s children are finding support for the unique trials, tribulations and joy as a second-time-around parent.

It’s called “ROCK – Raising Our Children’s Kids” – a free, secular program for grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren, meeting on Wednesday evenings at Trinity United Methodist Church, in Huntington. There, they can meet up with others who share the same situation and glean from the mistakes and successes of their peers.

Dr. Carla MacDonald, a member of Trinity UMC and also the director of social work program and field education at Huntington University, says the idea to form ROCK came from members of the community who approached her, inquiring as to whether there was a support group for grandparents. After her research showed there wasn’t one, a task force was formed to work on a place and time for grandparents who are parenting their grandkids to come together.

“We feel like we’re offering a program that’s needed. The school corporation and Department of Child Services, they all tell us there are lots of grandparents out there,” MacDonald says.

Task force member Liz Godts – who, herself, has raised her daughter’s children – says a typical ROCK meeting lasts two hours. The first hour focuses on a specific topic.

“It’s not just sitting around complaining about your kids and grandkids,” she says. “We have actual guest speakers that come in. We have attorneys, law enforcement, medical professionals come and give a presentation.”

The meeting’s second hour is dedicated to providing emotional support for attendees.

“We have a psychologist – a paid facilitator – who leads and directs the support part of it, where you can just vent about anything,” Godts goes on to explain. “Your life was all planned out, and now you’re raising grandchildren. Who thought I’d be 65 years old and still raising grandchildren? But things happen.”

Funding for the group facilitator, meals and other expenses is provided, thanks to grants from the Huntington County Community Foundation, John Joseph Sigstein Foundation, LACE of Huntington County and the Trinity Endowment.

Godts has been there-done-that as a grandparent parent, walking the journey of rearing her grandkids. Her daughter was incarcerated when she was pregnant with her daughter. When she got out, she gave birth to a son. But after violating her probation terms, Godts’ daughter was sent back to prison, and her son-in-law worked third shift, leaving the children in need of a stable home life.

“I’ve had a little bit of a different grandparent experience than a lot of people, because I wanted my grandchildren with me when my daughter went to prison,” she relates. “To me it wasn’t an inconvenience. And to a lot of grandparents, they’re kind of blindsided by the whole thing, and they’re angry and they’re desperate and they’re lost, and they just don’t know where to turn for help. This group can offer resources and assistance.”

Godts’ granddaughter has lived with her most of her life; she is now 18. Her grandson, who was formally adopted by his father, lived with him most of his life, spending school days with his grandmother. He is now 15.

Godts says her granddaughter, who has lived with her from the day she was born, didn’t want to live anywhere else but with her.

“Even though we never did anything legally through the courts, her father signed a paper giving me complete care and control of her and the decisions that we would have to make. We had it notarized and that was good enough for almost everything,” she says.

Godts says her experience led her on a journey in which she dealt with anger toward her daughter for the poor choices she made in her life.

“Once I got past that anger, I just looked at it as a blessing that I had those kids with me. I don’t know how else to say that,” she says. “There have been times when it’s been inconvenient. But, so what?”

Experiences of others in the group are not always the same, but they get an opportunity to express their feelings and find not just empathy, but hope – and answers. The group draws on the resources from several agencies, including Youth Services Bureau, The Bowen Center and school psychologists.

ROCK meets every other Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, located at 530 Guilford St., Huntington. A dinner is served first, then kids go to their own “Wild on Wednesdays” children’s group meeting that keeps them busy with structured activities, allowing their grandparents to express their thoughts and feelings out of their earshot. There is no charge for meals or the meetings.

Currently, five to eight people attend the sessions, but Godts and MacDonald say there is plenty of room for more to join in and they are welcome to check it out.

In November, ROCK meets on Nov. 6, dedicating the full two hours of the meeting for emotional support; and on Nov. 20, local attorney Joe Wiley will speak on legal issues.

To find out more about ROCK call the church office at 356-0961 and ask for Godts. She will return the call.

“If there is anything that is keeping someone from coming we’d like to know what it is, so if we could address it we’d like to address it,” MacDonald says, adding she is also available to talk with those who are interested in the program.