By GINNA PARSON, Northeast Mississippi Daily Newspaper
TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — For years, Mary Marion was haunted, even tormented, by an idea. She had put it aside for a while, but it had never really gone away. Finally, she prayed about it. And in 2002, she got her answer.
She had to fill a gap – a gap created when grandparents raise their grandchildren and don’t have the resources to do so.
“I had read articles in AARP that talked about more and more grandparents having to raise their grandchildren,” said Marion, the former retired senior volunteer program director at Lift, Inc. “There were things there, but not for grandparents.
Marion visited or researched several nonprofits in Tupelo to see what they offered, as she did not want to duplicate services. What she found was that no one had a program to help grandparents access services to help make a bumpy road easier.
So Marion bridged the gap by founding a non-profit organization called “Bridging the GAP: Building Bridges for Kinship Care Families,” GAP standing for Grandparents as Parents.
Once Marion had the idea for Bridging the GAP, she began looking for volunteers to help bring her vision to fruition. Lillian Young of Tupelo and Beverly Smith of Aberdeen became founding members, with Doris Renshaw of Tupelo acting as grandparents coordinator.
The band was active for six or seven years, then Marion’s mother fell ill and Bridging the GAP became largely inactive. Last year, Marion, Young and Smith got together to relaunch the mission.
GAP’s goals from the beginning – and today – have been to find services to help grandparents and to connect grandparents to services.
“The biggest problem we have is that the system is set up for parents or guardians, but it’s not set up for grandparents,” Marion said. “It is not designed to provide services to grandparents. If you’re not helping the grandparent, you’re not helping the child.
According to 2020 census data, more than 2.4 million grandparents in the United States are responsible for their grandchildren, Marion said, and an AARP fact sheet shows Mississippi has 44 986 grandparents raising their grandchildren.
“Most grandparents aren’t aware of the many services available to them, or how to access these resources,” Marion said.
Bridging the GAP is in the early stages of compiling a resource pamphlet for grandparents that will list local, state and national resources that offer services that could help them.
“Grandparents don’t know how to find or use these resources,” Young said. “They don’t know where to go, how to fill out the papers. Some grandparents don’t have a computer or don’t even know how to turn on a computer.
When Bridging the GAP began 20 years ago, none of the founding members were grandparents. Now Young and Smith help raise their grandchildren.
“I’m lucky,” Young said. “I am a licensed daycare director. I know how to operate a computer. I know how to help my grandchildren with their homework. I know where to find resources.
Every weekday afternoon and into the early evening, Young helps care for four and sometimes five of her grandchildren. She works with the older ones on homework and helps the younger ones with puzzles or coloring books. She feeds them and bathes them. So when their mothers leave work and pick them up, the kids are ready for bed.
“Sometimes I feel like the parent when I have to fuss, but sometimes I feel like the grandparent when I let them get away with something,” said Young, a teacher’s assistant and bus monitor for Tupelo Public School District.
When Bridging the GAP prepares its resource pamphlet later this year, members hope to put them in schools, churches, doctors’ offices — wherever they can drop them off.
“We’re just providing information and connecting grandparents to resources,” Marion said. “We are not social workers. But I believe you are doing what you can. And we can do it.
Sunday, September 11 is National Grandparents Day. Marion hopes people will remember to set aside time to honor and remember grandparents.
“They are the cornerstone of our families,” she said. “Grandparents helped form our family value systems, develop our character, and shape our personalities. They are truly the crown jewel of the family unit.
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