After a career in business, Russ Rogers and his wife Gail were looking forward to enjoying his retirement. They had plans to travel and enjoy their grandchildren.
Russ and Gail married after Russ’ first wife passed away. They raised four children, and Gail had a son from her previous marriage.
The couple’s plans changed dramatically four years ago when the court system was on the verge of placing Russ’ granddaughter in foster care.
While they admire foster parents and have confidence in the court system to ensure placement of children in good homes, Russ said he and Gail could not bear the thought of his 3-year-old granddaughter living with strangers.
Scrapping their plans for retirement, they became grandparents as parents.
Instead of a retiree, Russ said, recalling his decision, “I’m going to be a good daddy.”
More than three years later, He and Gail added his granddaughter’s little brother to their family. The child had spent four months in foster care, never having lived with his birth parents.
He has high praise for Madison Family Court Judge Nora Shepherd, who handled their adoption cases.
“Judge Shepherd is all about what’s best for the children,” Russ said.
While becoming parents at their age wasn’t what they were expecting, Russ explained, “I wouldn’t trade my situation with anybody. I love these children. They’ve wrapped me around their little fingers.”
His granddaughter, now age 7, is a “top student” at White Hall Elementary School. His grandson, now age 2 and a half, was delayed at first in developing his ability to speak, but is progressing nicely, Russ said.
Even when he “has to be a daddy” instead of an indulgent grandfather, Russ said he has never regretted the decision to parent his two grandchildren.
Thanks to his successful career, Russ said parenting his two grandchildren is not a financial burden, but he sympathizes with other grandparents who are not so fortunate.
Kentucky ended its assistance for families providing “kinship care” as budgets were cut during the recession.
Russ and Gail are active with the GAP program sponsored by the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service.
The group meets monthly with the parents sharing concerns about raising children in a world very different from when they or their children were growing up.
They also share information about where to get help with special issues, Russ said. Many of the children whose grandparents are in the group have special needs, such as attention deficit disorder or have issues with delayed development.
Most of the members are single women raising grandchildren, Russ noted, and often he is the only man present.
One of the women who regularly participates in the GAP group is Sonya Begay. For the past 10 years, she has been raising three grandsons on her own. Today they are ages 18, 16 and 14. The boys came to live with her after their father died as a result of violent crime.
Sonya’s case was a bit unusual in that she is a Navaho Indian, who grew up in Los Angeles, where her parents moved to attend high school after spending their younger years on a reservation.
She moved to Kentucky with a friend after graduating from high school and earned a degree in sociology.
After working with the Kentucky Department of Employment and Training, Sonya was working for the U.S. Labor Department in Pittsburgh. When her son was killed, she moved back to Kentucky.
In addition to getting the state of Kentucky’s permission to raise her grandsons, she also had to get her tribe’s permission in accordance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
Similar to Russ and Gail, Sonya was determined to raise her grandsons, even if it meant disrupting a promising career. Today, she works for Berea College’s Brushy Fork Institute.
The other grandparent/parents in the GAP group are like an extended family, Sonya said. “We’re very close.” While other friends are sympathetic and helpful, only other grandparent/parents can really understand what each other is going through.
In addition to monthly local meetings, GAP groups statewide have a combined meeting each summer in Lexington, where members attend seminars and learn about resources available to them.
For more about the Madison County Grandparents as Parents group, call the Cooperative Extension Office at 623-4072 and ask for Pam Francis.