Money was tight last August for Gertrude Carter, a 70-year-old Greece woman taking care of her 14-year-old granddaughter and 12-year-old great-granddaughter. Her plight became even more serious when her 1995 Chevrolet Corsica started having problems.
“I had a muffler go, and it needed the whole pipe from the catalytic converter back,” Carter said.
A local mechanic estimated that the car’s repairs would cost a little over $400, a sum that Carter simply didn’t have. Unsure of what she was going to do, Carter mentioned her dilemma to Jennifer DeYager, a case manager for Catholic Family Center’s Kinship Care Resource Network in Rochester. DeYager and the network’s other employees support people, such as Carter, who are raising the children of other family members.
DeYager promised Carter she’d check into the situation and see if there were any programs or grants that might help fund Carter’s car repairs.
“Before the afternoon was over she called me back and said, ‘Good luck, we have another program,'” Carter said.
The funding DeYager had found came from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal, which has been held each holiday season for nearly four decades. Proceeds from the appeal are distributed to the emergency funds of various Catholic Charities offices and other affiliated agencies throughout the 12 counties of the Diocese of Rochester. These agencies in turn use the proceeds to help individuals and families in short-term financial crises meet basic needs that cannot be funded through other sources.
When DeYager called Carter, she asked how much of her own money the woman would be able to put toward the repairs.
“At the time I had $200, but then school started so I needed to buy two pairs of sneakers, so then I only had $150,” Carter said. “I put in $150, and they put in $200 and some, which was just great.”
Carter said she relies on her car to help her transport her granddaughter and great-granddaughter to school functions and doctor and dentist appointments. She said she really appreciates the assistance she received through the Christmas Appeal, especially since her car trouble was so unexpected.
“You receive help from something like this, and it just lifts your spirits,” she said. “It was wonderful. I didn’t have to ask somebody to take me to the doctor for the kids or to the grocery store.”
Since October Carter also has been caring for her 18-year-old granddaughter. It can be tough to be both a grandparent and a primary caregiver, Carter noted, but said she has received a lot of help from DeYager and the Kinship Care Resource Network. DeYager helped her fill out the paperwork necessary to obtain legal guardianship of the children and helped her when her great-granddaughter was cut off from Medicaid, Carter said.
“There are just so many things that they helped me with,” she said.
Carter is not the only local person raising another family member’s children, DeYager said. In fact, currently there are 11,561 children in Monroe County being raised by a relative other than a parent, she said, and that number is increasing. In 2007 alone, the network assisted 483 children and 331 caregivers, an increase of 42 percent from the previous year, according to a report from the agency.
The reasons children can no longer live with their parents are varied and range from substance abuse to incarceration, but the reasons other relatives take the children in are simple and constant, DeYager noted.
“It’s out of the love for the child and trying to keep the family together,” she said.
DeYager and her colleagues work with these families and provide support and link them to community resources. They work with the families to identify specific needs — for example, securing funding through the Department of Social Services — and work with the families to help them achieve their goals, she said.
“We’re out there for all relative caregivers, not just grandparents. We help any relative caregiver 18 years or older. Lately one large population that we’re tending to see is siblings,” she said, noting one of her clients is a 24-year-old man who took over the care of his four siblings when their mother passed away.
For her part, Carter said she’s grateful for the help she’s received through both the Kinship Care Resource Network and the Christmas Appeal.
“You don’t know they’re there until someone points you in that direction,” she said.