Community rallies to form grandparent support group

In East Tennessee, dozens of grandparents meet with a future they did not anticipate: raising their own grandchildren. Many struggle to figure out what to do, as parenting has changed since they were younger. That is where the Elizabethton Senior Center comes in.

Director Kathy Dula said their blooming program Grands for Grands started in May, after meeting with the Tennessee Area Agency on Age and Disability and learning about it.

“With these opioid addictions, more grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren,” Dula said.

She said these grandparents are often in critical need of assistance and/or support, as the new reality comes at an age when they least expect.

“The people I have talked to are very stressed out,” she said. “They do not know what to do.”

That was when the Elizabethton/Carter County Library and the University of Tennessee Extension Office entered the picture.

The former worked to secure “The Grandfamily Guidebook” as something attendees can study each meeting.

“People think programs all come up from grants,” Adult Services Coordinator Maryann Owen said. “This is not cookie-cutter. This is a grassroots project.”

Owen said the older generations are in particular need of help in the region, whether they are grandparents themselves or not.

“They are the most vulnerable class of people in Carter County,” Owen said.

On this Monday’s meeting, a representative from TAAAD came to the senior center to talk about the SNAP food stamp program and what it entails.

Dula said grandparents are often at a total loss as how parenting children works in an era with technology that did not exist when they themselves were parents.

“All of the sudden, you have a child when you are not prepared for it,” Dula said. “We have support groups for all kinds of things.”

The program meets at 10 a.m. on the second Monday of each month, and though the group is small now, it is showing signs of growth already, both in numbers and resources.

“Vickie Clark wants to get a resource book,” she said. “There are a lot of things to think about.”

To those unsure if they could benefit from such a program, or whether they should attend or are perhaps afraid to admit they need help, she said there is little reason not to try.

“If you want to come, just come,” Dula said. “There might be something we talk about that you might need help with. If you are feeling lost in all of this, this is a great place to come.”

The senior center’s address is 428 E. G St., Elizabethton. For more information, call 423-543-4362.

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