By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Isaac Jones and wife, Norma, displaced from New Orleans to Houston for a period following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, suffered numerous health and financial issues. The couple put aside their own struggles to raise their grandchildren, Eymine, a student at Woodlawn Middle School, and JC, 3. They are raising their grandchildren with a dream they will have a better life.  

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Grandparents, some accompanied by their grandchildren, gathered for conference that provided information, support and encouragement during a conference April 12.  Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator 

 

Their story was among many of sacrifice, hardship and joys of grandparents taking on the later-in-life role of parenting at a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Conference on April 12 at the Holiday Inn of Baton Rouge.  

The conference, hosted by the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Information Center of Louisiana and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, provided resources and thanked its “grandangels.”  

Louisiana ranks in the top five nationally in the number of grandparents raising grandchildren, with 10,000 children being raised by their grandparents in the Baton Rouge area alone, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.  

Following a welcoming ceremony featuring bag pipes and the posting of the colors by the Baton Rouge Police Honor Guard, Governor John Bel Edwards, who was among several state and local dignitaries present at the conference, commended attendees for being active in their grandchildren’s lives.  

“I know you love your grandchildren,” said Edwards. “There are very different reasons why parents can’t or won’t take on the responsibility of raising their children. But you have stepped up to the plate and it’s not easy. I know raising children is a challenging endeavor and you are to be recognized for the incredible job you do.”  

He explained the various government resources available to grandparents and recognized Dot Thibodaux, founder of GRG and member of St. Alphonsus Church in Greenwell Springs, an organization offering information and support, including support groups, to grandparents and other kinship caregivers and their families.  

The Jones said GRG’s support has been valuable to them.  

They and their two daughters and grandchildren lived in Houston before the Joneses moved to Baton Rouge in 2011. Eymine’s mother remained in Houston, but because of psychological trauma from the flood, was unable to care for Eymine. JC’s mother moved to New Orleans, where she substitute teaches, but has health and financial difficulties that prevent her from being able care take care of JC.  

The Jones family believes “nothing will stop us.” Issac, who lost his leg due to diabetes in 2016, is part of the Cajun Crushers, a group of athletes that competes each June in the Endeavor Games for disabled people in Edmond, Oklahoma. Last year Isaac won a silver medal in volleyball and gold medals in shotput and discus. This year he will compete in the same events as well as a running event.  

Eymine has received therapy and help with his school work and plays basketball. His mother also received therapy and attends college. JC, who flitted around the couple at the conference, will enter pre-kindergarten later this year while her mother works through her health issues.  

Norma, who deals with her own chronic health issues, said the family hopes to vacation together next year. She wants her grandchildren to have a happy, healthy home and said the best way to find calm into the midst life’s storms is to “give it to God.”  

“That what gets me through this,” said Norma, wiping away tears.  

Nora Davis, 65, said her great-grandson, Daryoatae, 9, whom her granddaughter gave birth to at the age of 15, has been in her care since he was born.  

She is very involved in his school, Bains Upper Elementary in St. Francisville, and proudly showed a picture of him on her smartphone being recognized for making the third-grade honor roll. She also keeps games and educational apps on her phone for Daryoatae.  

She also volunteers at West Feliciana Civil Parish Head Start, doing one-on-one activities with the children and reading to them.  

“When they see me coming they run down the hall and I love it,” said Nora with twinkling eyes.  

She concedes that Daryoatae teaches her more than she teaches him, pointing out that she learned about “new math” through him.  

“Since my husband died he’s been a healing presence for me. He keeps me occupied. I always say (at night) ‘Let’s lock the door,’ and he says, ‘Maw Maw, let’s say a prayer.’ ” >

Lucille Williams, 56, has also been taking care of her grandchildren Aniyla and Arez, 10, since birth.  

“Their parents work around the clock. I don’t mind helping them because they are making a living,” says Williams who keeps the children Monday through Friday.  

Williams said she came to the GRC conference for spiritual growth and assistance.  

“I don’t meet a stranger. It’s been a big help for the past 15 years,” said Williams.  

She proudly talked about how Aniyla has an “entrepreneurial spirit,” starting an on-line makeup and jewelry company.  

“She wants to be able to hire people so she can help others,” said a beaming Williams.  

“I always tell them always put God first and everything will work out.”  

She said this is true because she went through the same journey as her daughter.  

“When my daughter started working I didn’t mind because my Mom helped raise my children because I was working nights,” said Williams. “I am giving back.”  

Other opportunities for people who are at least 55-years-old to impact the lives of children include the Foster Grandparents Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Program participants are paired up with children and help them learn to read, provide one-on-one tutoring and guide the children through critical times in their lives. For more information about GRG, visit lagrg.org.