September 11 is National Grandparents Day. Since 1978, the first Sunday after Labor Day has been designated as a day to pay tribute to our nation’s grandparents. Grandparents are our important connections to the past and they help to lay the groundwork for our futures.
Like many Americans today, I too experienced first-hand the love, wisdom and caring that can only come from a grandparent. I was raised in part by my grandmother who instilled values and principles that I live by today. There is nothing that can compare to the cherished relationship that can exist between a grandparent and a grandchild.
Not only do grandparents play an important role within their families, sometimes they may find themselves back in the role of parent raising children due to unfortunate events. For many grandparents, stepping into a parental role again, means confronting new and different challenges than those they faced when they raised their own children. The Administration on Aging's National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) provides support for grandparents who are raising their young grandchildren. The program enables the Aging Network to address the unique needs of grandparents who step in to provide care for their grandchildren.
In the 16 years since the NFCSP was established, the program has made tremendous inroads in supporting the critical work of family caregivers, including grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren. For example, in 2014, the NFCSP served more than 13,000 grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren, more than 3,500 of whom received supplemental services, including legal assistance, school supplies and more than 260,000 hours of respite to give them a chance to rest and recharge. In fact, as ACL's recently completed evaluation of the NFCSP shows, nearly 82% of state agencies on aging have made specific efforts to reach out to and serve grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren.
It is important to also recognize that “grandparent” connections do not have to be biological. There are myriad programs that allow older adults to serve in “surrogate” grandparent roles. One of the most well-known programs is the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Foster Grandparent Program, which is allowing over 25,000 older adults the opportunity to give back by sharing their wisdom with over 189,000 children around the country. I recently learned about a program that allows youth living at the San Pasqual Academy, a residential education campus in San Diego designed specifically for foster teens, the benefit of having surrogate grandparents who live on the academy grounds to help promote their success. The San Pasqual Academy Neighbors program offers older adults reduced rent in exchange for 10 hours of volunteer time a week with the young people on campus. To learn more about other intergenerational programs, visit Generations United, an organization committed to highlighting and demonstrating the power of intergenerational connections.
Whether connected by blood or by purpose, grandparents and other relatives who step in to raise our youth, create ties that bind our generations and are the pillars of the family and our nation. This Grandparents Day, let's all stop to acknowledge these amazing individuals and all they mean to us.