When Dot Thibodeaux found herself raising her grandson, she felt alone and like she had no one to turn to for guidance. It turned out her friend, Danna Spayde, was facing the same issues as Dot, so they decided to form a support group called “Second Time Around,” which would help grandparents or caregivers who are raising children who are not their own. The support group is still in existence today, helping individuals with everything from finding the right insurance to tackling school expenses on a limited income.
The support group has become a nonprofit called Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Information Center of Louisiana (GRG), and it provides legal, health, behavioral, adoption, and support resources to caregivers with the help of volunteers, lawyers, and counselors.
Kathy Coleman, Secretary Treasurer and CEO of GRG, is raising six grandchildren. She found the organization over seven years ago and joined a support group. When Dot, who passed away recently, asked for Kathy’s help, Kathy knew she would help however she could.
“Once you’ve lived this life and lived in those shoes, it makes you want to give back,” Kathy says. “It’s very difficult. You go through a mixture of emotions. You’re angry and confused and bitter and depressed, but you have to put that on a shelf for now. You’re put into a situation where you’re forced to step up.”
One important resource GRG offers is a 24-hour hotline. Sometimes they need specific help, and sometimes they just need to vent, Kathy says. From there, they can be directed to different workshops, support groups, and local resources.
Todd Gaudin, founder of On Point Legal, LLC, in Baton Rouge, got involved with GRG after he saw a volunteer invitation through the Baton Rouge Bar Association. He gives his time at GRG’s quarterly legal workshops and annual conference.
Todd’s role is to demystify legal terms, making the process clearer to people who have never had legal experience. He often discusses adoption, child custody, social security benefits, and estate succession, among others.
“They’re older and have spent substantial time on this Earth and now find it their moral duty to care for and protect their grandchildren, a job that exhausts even 20-something parents,” Todd says. “This ‘job’ exists because the children’s parents are not willing or able to be parents. They deserve extra help!”
We live in a world of information, and many grandparents are overwhelmed by it, Todd says. Grandparents need clear advice, and they want to hear it from an actual human being.
Being in this situation can be stressful, but GRG provides a place to discuss challenges. GRG allows caregivers to step back and take a breath.
“There are so many people in the same boat, and it varies as to why they’re there, but I will tell you the one common thing, no grandparent sets out to raise their grandchildren. Our organization deals with people who say these are not the state’s children, and we are going to take care of them,” Kathy says. ■