Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Three Special Christmas Days

As an 8 year old in the early 1930’s I believed in Santa Claus. This was during the depression years and we had to go to a church to get the food for Christmas dinner. My 12 year old neighbor used to chide me about my belief. He said Santa couldn’t fit down anybody’s chimney and also leave toys for everybody. I was convinced that he did because he left me an electric train and I knew my parents could not afford it. I showed him marks on the front door jamb which must have been made by Santa’s bag when he came in the front door if he didn’t come down the chimney. Years later my mother told me her employer made the train possible.

Twenty years later, I was happily married. My wife and I had a nine month old boy who was just beginning to walk. On Christmas morning, we took him downstairs and sat him in front of the freshly decorated tree with toys around it. He squealed with delight and in one grand motion he started looking at the bottom of the tree, then slowly let his gaze travel up the tree and when he got to the top he was off balance and rolled over backward. It was a hilarious sight as he recovered quickly and made joyful sounds full of glee.

Now in my mid-eighties I look forward to enjoying Christmas not only in the homes of my children and grandchildren who live nearby but also with my daughter, granddaughters, and great grandchildren, who live in Atlanta, via Skype. Who says there isn’t a Santa Claus.

Written by Thomas Taylor

December, 2012

Grand Success Stories: Anika Rahman

imageAs president and CEO for the Ms. Foundation for Women, Anika Rahman works for equality for genders. Rahman’s interest in gender equality began in her childhood. Growing up in Bangladesh, Rahman found herself surrounded by strong and smart women who were treated unjustly.

Rahman experienced the inequities firsthand. After her mother divorced her father, an uncommon occurrence in Bangladesh, Rahman saw how society treated her mother as an outcast. Then, after she and her mother moved in with her grandmother and aunt, Rahman observed how “my grandmother ran all the finances, she made the business decisions, and even helped build houses, yet she couldn’t have a job.”

Those experiences and others inspired Rahman to advocate for gender equality. "For many years, I assumed that all women had been brought up with the same, empowering mentality [that I’d had]. I later realized that my grandmother's vision was revolutionary not only for her time, but also for ours," she said.

Rahman has spent her adulthood fighting for the dignity of women. The strength her elder female family members provided her continues on through her legacy. “These three incredibly strong women taught me to be unbowed by injustice, to fight it and to be tenacious. I am who I am because of what they taught me. I fight for women's rights and for human dignity for them and for my daughter.”

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Social Security Success Stories: Morrisella Middleton


Morrisella Middleton didn’t anticipate that she would need to care for her daughter’s children, but she gladly accepted the responsibility. Despite the day-to-day difficulties that arose, the Baltimore resident raised her grandchildren while working hard as a supervisor of an assisted living facility to provide a good life for them.

Although her daughter Yolanda was married with two children, she fought problems with drugs. Their father Shane Morrell, Sr. held a construction job renovating old houses. One day he was rushed to the hospital coughing up blood. Shortly after he recovered, he experienced another coughing attack with even more blood. Doctors ran tests and determined that Shane had mesothelioma, a form of cancer most often associated with the inhalation of asbestos. His physician told him he never saw such an advanced case in such a young man before and gave him just more six months to live.

“I knew it was important that Shane spend as much time with his kids as possible,” Morrisella said, “so I took them all over town to hospitals, clinics, wherever he was at for his treatments.” His condition worsened. In four months, Shane landed in hospice care.

Morrisella threw a Super Bowl party for him in his hospice room, improving Shane’s spirits. But the day after the party, he took a turn for the worse. When she visited him that day, he told her that he wasn’t going to live much longer.

“He was really weak, could barely move,” Morrisella said. “He was trying to talk to me and I watched him slowly reach over and open a drawer to his night stand.” He pulled out brand-new copies of some paperwork, including his Social Security card that the hospice staff had helped him obtain, and then handed them to her.


“Miss Morrisella,” he said, “please take care of my son.” He also handed her an envelope with some money and instructed her to give it to Shane Jr. at Christmas. Two days later, Shane Sr. was gone.

“Their father died about 11 years ago. I’ve raised their daughter Laquanna since she was four and Shane Jr. since he was three, right after his father’s death,” Morrisella said. “Laquanna is 23 now and Shane is 17, so it’s been quite a while.”

After caring for the children for several years, Morrisella’s world crumbled around her in 2007. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, malignant hypertension and cancer, she needed to go on disability. A year later, her daughter Yolanda died.

Shortly thereafter, Morrisella lost 80% of her wealth during the economic downturn. She needed to rely completely on Social Security including her contributions from her past employment and the survivor benefits that Laquanna and Shane received.

“Social Security has been my lifeline – my only lifeline,” Morrisella said. “It’s been critical for me in raising the children and their future. Thank goodness for the survivor benefits for the kids and what I contributed to in the 44 years I have worked. It’s been my only token to get by.”

She says her experience taught her what Social Security can mean to a family, something she never fails to communicate to the children.

“I tell my grandkids all the time of the importance of Social Security,” she said. “It’s important to get a job, to pay into the system. It could make a huge difference in your life. It certainly has in mine.”

With her cancer in remission, Morrisella looks forward to a new endeavor: volunteering at a local hospital to help other cancer patients through their treatments.

“My first instinct has always been to hurry up and get better soon and get back to work,” she said, “and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Solving Hunger and Nutrition Across the Generations: Five and Fit


All the children gathered around Ms. Yvonne for their first taste of kiwi fruit. “If you like it, rub your tummy and say ‘I LIKE IT!’” Ms. Yvonne told them. “If you don’t, stick your tongue out and say, ‘YUCK!’” Precious followed Ms. Yvonne around for the rest of the hour, saying “I LOVE IT!” It was the beginning of a special friendship.

Strong friendships and healthy foods are at the essence of Five & Fit, a program started in 2008 by the Intergenerational Center of Temple University in Philadelphia. The program came about when the Intergenerational Center’s director, Dr. Andrea Taylor, discovered that sugary soft drinks and potato chips were often typical breakfast foods for many Philadelphia preschoolers.

“It made me wonder: if they were eating such calorie-dense, nutrient-lite ’foods’ early in the morning, what were they having for lunch and dinner?” Andrea says.


She knew that unless something changed, these young children – and others to come – wouldn’t get the nutrition they needed to excel. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a poor diet can lead to obesity even among pre-schoolers. In fact, nearly a third of low-income preschoolers in the U.S. are overweight or obese. The CDC reports that obese children are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Andrea was determined to help turn the situation around for Philadelphia’s young children. “For the program to succeed, we needed to involve parents, family members and formal caregivers, and help them change their own behaviors with regard to healthy food choices and regular exercise, Andrea notes. “We decided the best way to do that would be to engage older adults.

“By mobilizing older adults to influence the circle of caregivers that surround young
children, it becomes a win-win situation for all,” Andrea explains. “We reach young children during this very narrow window that shapes their relationship with food for the rest of their lives, and older participants have the opportunity to change the trajectory of young people within their community.”

Guided by the University's Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE), Andrea created Five & Fit to teach preschoolers about healthy food choices and offer fun ways to increase their activity levels. Yvonne Thompson-Friend, who serves as program coordinator, says Five & Fit concentrates its resources in two low-income areas where children face greater nutrition challenges.

“One is heavily Latino, the other is primarily African-American. In these communities, wisdom from elders is held in very high esteem, says Yvonne. “Many of the young mothers need help or support in learning to shop for and cook with healthy foods. The older adults act as a kind of surrogate grandparent, drawing on their own experience raising children to provide valuable tips for young parents on how to encourage children to eat healthy and get active.


“We adapt our activities to address the specific cultural backgrounds of each site’s student population. For one of our events in the Latino neighborhood we walked around the town square with festive and lively music that brought out entire community. Everyone enjoyed themselves, danced and learned about healthy eating.
“We got all ages involved at the African-American site as well. Teens came in and cleared an area for healthy planting, older adults helped children plant individual seedlings in the new garden, and when the plants were harvested, everyone in the community shared the bounty.”

“The program has benefited everyone,” Yvonne says. “Children are eating new fruits and vegetables and asking that these foods be served at home. Parents have discovered that their children are open to trying new foods and actually prefer many healthy alternatives over less nutritious food. The parents are also grateful that their children’s teachers are making nutrition and activity a priority, and for the older adults who are building relationships with their children.”

Dr. Andrea Taylor adds, “The teachers themselves have a better understanding of what prevents or reduces obesity specifically for pre-school age children. They enjoy incorporating Fit & Five ideas and activities into their lesson plans and love knowing that the children are excited about the program and enjoy learning from the older volunteers. The teachers think of the Fit & Five staff and volunteers as their allies in promoting important changes in the community.

“As for the older adult volunteers, working with the young children has given them a new outlook, and they’ve become effective children’s advocates. Many are improving their own eating habits and exercising more.”

Photos courtesy Yvonne Thompson-Friend and the Intergenerational Center of Temple University

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Monday, December 17, 2012

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: Hunger Outreach Team (HOT)


The Hunger Outreach Team (HOT) at Worcester State University (Mass.) is not your typical college class. For one thing, your fellow students can range in age from their late teens to their late 80s. (Worcester offers free classes for Massachusetts residents 60 and older.) For another, the program concentrates on helping people at risk of hunger learn about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and access benefits.

HOT is the brainchild of Maureen Power, a professor who heads Worcester State’s Intergenerational Urban Institute (IUI), where the HOT and other IUI teams tackle tough urban issues, such as hunger, affordable housing, and helping elder immigrants learn English. Maureen is also a pioneer in the area of service learning. Since she began teaching 37 years ago, Maureen has emphasized to students that serving the community is every bit as important as textbooks and term papers.

“The institute channels the energies of students of all ages to address urban issues,” Maureen explains. “The team spirit that evolves among the students is wonderful to watch. There’s a place for everyone.”


“The idea for HOT came after years of students working in food banks and food pantries as part of their studies,” she continues. “From our experience, we realized we could best help people who are food insecure by opening them up to the idea of applying for SNAP. We began to work closely with our Congressman, Jim McGovern, who is a stalwart of SNAP, as well as the Worcester Community Action Council and Project Bread. In 2008, we received a two-year Commonwealth Core Grant to reach out to elderly adults about SNAP.

“We targeted older adults because many were living on very small incomes and were being forced to choose between food and medicine,” Maureen explains. “They also resisted accepting any kind of aid because they thought it was for poor people, not for them.”

Under the grant, traditional-age college students and their elder colleagues joined with low-income youth from area high schools to reach out to the elderly.

“We concentrated on our efforts in senior and public housing sites, as well as local councils on aging,” Maureen notes. “We talked with older individuals and let them know that they could be eligible for SNAP. We even developed a SNAP bingo game as a fun way for them to learn about SNAP. The game was a big hit and elder residents learned a great deal in the process. At the end of our visits, we’d leave additional information and explain that we would be back to help them apply and also do any follow-up necessary on their application.”

During the grant period, Ending Hunger Together crew developed an excellent working relationship with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, which handles all SNAP applications. That collaboration, along with the streamlining of the SNAP application process, made it easier for older people to apply and receive benefits.

Over the past two years, HOT members also realized that many of their fellow college students, who were struggling to put food on the table, were probably eligible for SNAP. However, few of these young students knew about the program
and consequently hadn’t applied. “These students were hungry and running on empty,” Maureen explains. “We know college is stressful and we didn’t want food to become a setback for students in need. So, we created an office in the Urban Studies department where we help students apply for SNAP in confidence.”

Maureen says that the intergenerational aspect is HOT’s heart and soul. “Hunger spans the ages. Older adults worry that young people, children and families don’t have money for food. Young people worry that older people are not getting their nutritional needs met.

“It’s very heartwarming to see the way people of all ages work together. Everyone is deeply committed to HOT. There are no barriers; we all work on an equal footing.”


For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: DC Central Kitchen


Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, never stops envisioning new ways to attack hunger and food insecurity. His approach to hunger isn’t simply to feed, it’s to empower and strengthen those who are hungry. Above all, his approach aims to build a sense of community so that hunger is everyone’s concern and ending hunger is everyone’s mission.


One of Robert’s most enduring efforts has been the DC Central Kitchen. As the Kitchen’s website explains, “We use food as a tool to strengthen our community.”

Through job training, healthy food distribution, and local farm partnerships, DC Central Kitchen offers path-breaking solutions to poverty, hunger, and poor health.

Since its founding in 1989, DC Central Kitchen has prepared 25 million meals for low-income and at-risk neighbors in Washington, DC. The 5,000 meals the kitchen distributes every day are distributed at little or no cost to 100 nearby homeless shelters, transitional homes, and nonprofit organizations, saving them money and nourishing their clients.

One of the Kitchen’s jewels is the intergenerational Campus Kitchens Project (CKP), which meshes community service for students and with a model approach to relieving hunger. CKP empowers the next generation of leaders to implement innovative models for combating hunger, developing food systems, and helping communities help themselves.

Robert founded the project in 1992, when the graying of America was fast becoming a topic of concern and many schools were taking a renewed interest in service learning. In Robert’s mind, as America aged, a growing number of older adults would be in danger of food insecurity, yet current programs, such as food pantries couldn’t answer the problem. By getting young people involved in service to seniors, CKP could offer a kinder, gentler solution. “It’s a terrific way to help older people who are terrified of the future and who are broke financially and spiritually,” he says. “We
don’t want to just feed people’s stomachs, we want to do it in a way that gives them a reason to live so they want to eat another day. And we want young people to feel good about giving back to their elders.”


Intergenerational by design, CKP operates in 33 schools around the country, partnering with high schools, colleges, and universities to share on-campus kitchen space, recover food from cafeterias, and engage students as volunteers who prepare and deliver meals to the community.

According to Robert, “We fervently believe that this type of intergenerational
program can reveal the power of community to address problems and build bridges between the generations. The sense of being needed bonds people. For example, here in Washington, DC, students at Gonzaga College High School became fast friends with many of the seniors they serve through their campus kitchen. Now, the older adults lock to Gonzaga football and basketball games and are a very vocal cheering section.”

Along with developing strong relationships with older adults, CKP student volunteers learn a wide array of skills through their service work. “In the past, school cafeterias were treated as filling stations where students came to fill up on food then leave. But we believe cafeterias should be a dynamic learning lab,” Robert explains. “By encouraging students to run their own Campus Kitchens, we can help them apply the lessons learned in college classrooms to real-life situations.”

CKP students develop partnerships, plan menus, run cooking shifts, organize drivers, garden, glean, and teach nutrition education to children and families. They keep track of all of the paperwork (to ensure everything’s being done safely), organize fundraisers, develop curriculum, and recruit new students to get involved.

As a result of their service learning, CKP student volunteers are acutely aware of hunger issues and continually look for new ways to end food insecurity. “Their activism can help spark some of the important changes that need to take place throughout our society,” Robert believes. “Currently, federal policies are divided: one for seniors; one for children. If we treat age groups separately, we build false generational divides when we should be building bridges. Hunger affects all ages, so we should gear our federal policies for all ages.”

Robert believes CKP students will lead the way in revamping America’s approach to hunger. They have the experience, they have the skills, and they proven they have the heart to get the job done.

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Grand Success Stories: Ray Krise


A year before Ray Krise was born, a Skokomish spiritual leader cautioned his grandparents that they needed to change their ways because a future grandchild’s life was at stake. Turned out that life was Ray’s.

Although Steve and Naomi Johns long ago had strayed far from their tribal roots, they were swayed by the wise man’s prophesy. Under his guidance, they gave up alcohol and began studying their ancestors’ ancient ways so they could pass on their identity and culture. A year later, they felt blessed to be able to take in their newborn grandson, Ray, because his parents couldn’t care for him. Eventually, young Ray’s grandfather became a great spiritual and tribal leader and, from 1965 until his death in 1980, was an elder in the Native American Shaker Church. His grandmother became known as one of the best fishermen among the Skokomish—a great honor in tribal tradition.

“If not for being raised by my grandparents, I would not have a cultural identity,” Krise explains. “I wouldn’t know my family lineage and my son would not bear the name Tcha-LQad—a name that is 17 generations old.

“My grandparents raised me in old, traditional ways—no running the streets or going to dances like other kids my age. Instead, I was involved in the spiritual side of life. My passion was going to drum circles and listening to old people talk and perform ceremonies. That helped me develop a real sense of pride and belonging.”

When asked about his grandparents, Krise had no difficulty finding words to describe them. “My grandfather was probably one of the kindest men I’ve ever known,” Krise recalls of the man who taught him to carve totem poles. “He was also a leader. I was proud to accompany him when he stood beside Marlon Brando during the fishing wars in the 1970s. That’s when the Skokomish and other coastal tribes were fighting for the right to fish in waterways off the reservation.”

Although Krise lost his grandfather in 1980, his grandmother was in his life until 2005. “She was the most beautiful woman in the world, very caring and always giving of her own. My cousin and I took care of her until her last days. It was a privilege.”

Today, Krise is a highly respected community spiritual leader, among other roles, having trained to be a speaker and hereditary chief since he was 11 years old.

Krise is also a father and grandfather. “It’s pretty awesome having my children and grandchildren in my life. We live on the same property and sing the same songs my grandparents sang to me as a baby. I’m thankful every day for how I was brought up in life.”

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger


During summer, children in the United States experience higher rates of food insecurity because they are not in school receiving free and reduced meals. The New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger recognized that over 200,000 children in the state were hungry over summer months. In response, it created the Intergenerational Summer Food Program. The program links children to free breakfast and lunch at community centers, churches, schools, parks, Boys & Girls Clubs and senior centers across the state. In addition, seniors are recruited to pack and distribute weekend food bags every Friday over summer so that children are provided nutritious food. The interaction of seniors, and many times teenage volunteers, packing the bags and then handing them to each child is a fun activity that brought all volunteers back week after week. Seniors also plant, tend and harvest community gardens at many of the summer food sites. This is a particularly rewarding activity to the senior volunteers because many children have never seen how a tomato or other vegetable grows. At several sites, seniors have become so involved with the children that they also volunteer to help with other activities. These include art, dance, cooking, nutrition education, jewelry and drum making - all demonstrating the incredible skill sets of the senior volunteers.

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Social Security Success Stories: Beth Finke

imageNative Chicagoan Beth Finke knows first-hand how Social Security can benefit children and their families. As the youngest in a family of seven children, she became a first-time Social Security recipient at three-years- old following the death of her father. At the time, four of her brothers and sisters also lived at home. Beth and her siblings received Social Security survivor benefits, which allowed her mother to make ends meet.

“The survivor benefits literally allowed our family to survive,” Beth said.

In addition to helping her family survive, Social Security played another important role in Beth’s life as a young adult. During the years Beth attended college, the government continued to provide Social Security benefits for youth up to age 22 enrolled in college. By eliminating the need to immediately enter the workforce at age 18 to support themselves and their families, this extension helped many students like Beth complete their post-secondary education successfully. This benefit, since rescinded and unavailable for today’s young adults, made it possible for Beth to go to college and get a degree in journalism.

“Without the college degree, I don’t where I would be,” Beth said. “We certainly did not have the resources to manage that, and if I didn’t have the student benefit, I would never have been able to go.”

At age 26, Beth lost her sight from a rare disease called diabetic retinopathy. As she adjusted to her vision loss, the education that she received from Social Security survivor benefits became even more critical to her future success. With the aid of a talking computer and the skills she learned as a journalism major, Beth launched a successful career as a writer. Now an award-winning author, teacher, and speaker, Beth credits Social Security for enabling her to support herself as an adult and to give back to others. Today at 52, she often speaks to young children about her experiences and reads to them from her children’s about her guide dog Hanna.


“All my adult life, I have worked hard,” Beth said. “Social Security paid my way through college so I could work and pay into the system myself, which I am very happy to do.”

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: Olivia and Richard

imageFor much of her adult life, Olivia had known adversity. But the greatest test of her spirit and endurance would come at the age of 53 when she became permanent caregiver for her three-month-old grandson, Richard. The story of how Richard came to be in Olivia’s care was a tragedy in itself. The baby’s father, Olivia’s son, had served in the military, including an 18-month tour in Iraq. When he returned to the States, he had changed. No longer the responsible, patriotic young man Olivia had known, he was angry and troubled; after being discharged from the Army, he turned violent. In the course of a robbery attempt, which also involved his wife, he killed a man. With both her son and daughter-in-law incarcerated, Olivia stepped in to care for her tiny grandson.

The timing was tough for Olivia: she had already raised two other sons and had two other grandchildren. In addition, she had suffered an accident on the job while working as a nuclear medicine tech and had become disabled. For some
time, she had been struggling to live on the income from her disability payment, and had moved in with a friend, sleeping on her floor. Olivia knew that her meager funds would not cover her grandson’s food and other necessities, but she
was determined to care for him.

A long-time activist, Olivia sought advice from an old friend, Jim Graham, who serves on the District of Columbia’s City Council. She says that Jim “firmly and fairly” insisted that she seek help from the City and pointed her to the Columbia
Heights Collaborative. Ruled ineligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) because of her disability payment, Olivia applied to the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program to cover Richard’s formula, baby food, and
other nutrition needs. She also received help in enrolling Richard in Medicaid.

But then, Olivia notes, it was the community who embraced her. Martha’s Table, a valued local resource, came to her aid with groceries and clothing. Richard was enrolled in the organization’s day care center, and only recently left there
to attend the preschool at Francis-Stevens Educational Campus.

Olivia continues to rely on local food sources, including So Others May Eat, the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and SHARE. This year, Olivia prepared her Thanksgiving meal from a food basket she received from a local program.
Olivia is enrolled in the Grandparent Caregivers Program, administered by the DC Child and Family Services Agency and receives a small stipend that helps her afford to care for Richard. She is also working with LIFT, a program that arranged
for her to work one-on-one with a student at American University in negotiating a dispute with her current landlord.

As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Martha’s Table, So Others May Eat, SHARE, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church make up a large part of Olivia and Richard’s village—and they are grateful to have such a
wonderful support system. Still, it takes a lot of work for this grandmother to keep things together. The payments Olivia receives are not automatic, her food resources are scattered and barely adequate, and her disability makes everything harder. But if you meet Olivia and talk with her, she expresses only gratitude to all the organizations that help her survive. She says: “I don’t have a sense of entitlement, but I am grateful for the support.

For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Solving Hunger Across the Generations: St. Louis Meal Runners


Pamela Guest grew increasingly concerned as she watched her volunteers lift the heavy meal carriers and coolers, and place them in their vehicles. It was tough work. Each volunteer was responsible for delivering a hot meal, fruit and milk daily to 16 homebound adults. Without these dedicated volunteers, homebound and frail elderly would not have the hot, nutritionally balanced meals they needed to live independently in their own homes.

As administrator for the South County Senior Resource Center in Lemay, Missouri, Pamela knew that her volunteers were dedicated to their task and rarely complained. But she was also aware that while their spirits were willing, many of their bodies were struggling under the heavy lifting. After all, the majority of her volunteers were in their 70s.


“Too bad you can’t use kids to help deliver meals,” a friend said in passing one day. That chance remark gave Pamela the solution she needed. “When my friend said that, a light bulb went off,” Pamela explains. “I thought, ‘Why can’t we find a way to get young people involved?’”

Inspired, Pamela contacted the principal of nearby Bayless High School to discuss the possibility. During the conversation, the principal mentioned that the school already offered a class called Student Service Learning that emphasized service to the community. Perhaps the class could give students the opportunity to help deliver meals and earn school credit at the same time.

Following several months of meetings, paperwork and training, Meal Runners was launched—and proved so successful it’s now in its seventh year. Today, over 30 young people take part each year.

All volunteers—students and older adults alike—receive training on intergenerational dynamics. The training helps sensitize them to avoid negative stereotypes.

“The older adults and teens work together in two-person teams to deliver meals to 120 homebound elders in the area,” Pamela notes. “The older volunteers pick up their student partners at school and bring them to the senior center where the students now do the lifting and packing of meal carriers and coolers. Then together, the two-person teams deliver the meals.”

“The feedback has been extremely positive,” Pamela says. “The program has helped break down intergenerational barriers and brought people of all ages together to help their hungry and elderly neighbors.”

“Many of the older adults in the program—both volunteers and the homebound—used to be leery or afraid of kids. Now, they see that young people’s hearts and minds are in a very positive place and that these kids are headed in the right direction.”

“One of our drivers, Mr. Unger, always talks about how much he loves the program and how it’s opened up new adventures for him. He’s been paired with students from different cultures—Bosnian, Korean, Hispanic—that he might never have been exposed to. And, he’s become a mentor for a number of youngsters. Kids are interested in his life story and opinions; they ask for his advice, and he helps guide them in a positive direction. Last year, several students nominated him for the MetLife Foundation Mentor Award. He won! That award means a great deal to him.”

“Meal Runners has had a profound impact on the student volunteers as well. Those who may have started out volunteering in order to earn a grade, now see the need in our community. They recognize how important it is to give back. They are also learning to see older adults in a new and respectful way. They realize that not everyone has someone to look after them, but that everyone needs a level of care and concern. Because of their involvement in Meal Runners, some students decided to pursue gerontology after graduation. One even interned with our agency’s nutrition department.”

Pamela, too, has received national and state awards for “Best Intergenerational Program.”

“The change in mindset is so important! We’re producing the next generation of volunteers, and these kids are setting a great example for their peers and older adults alike!”

Driving for Miss Lola

Right after Meal Runners began, “Miss Lola”, just home from the hospital, began receiving home delivered meals. She lived alone, had no children or living relatives, and seemed to have given up. Her loneliness was evident in the way she lived: When students first started showing up to deliver her meals at midday, Miss Lola answered the door in her nightgown, her hair unkempt. She received her meals in silence and closed the door. But the student volunteers had been taught they should make an effort to speak with their homebound neighbors. One day, a young female volunteer gently asked, “Miss Lola, could I give you a hug?”

That simple gesture turned Miss Lola’s life around. She hugged the student, and both began to cry. More important, they began to talk. The next day, when the student and her older volunteer partner drove to Miss Lola’s, they were astonished to see her dressed and well-coiffed. From then on, Miss Lola always wanted her hug. Those who knew her said the end of her life was happier because of the care she’d received from the kids.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This Thanksgiving, Appreciating Life’s Unexpected “Gifts”

Written by Jaia Peterson Lent

Last February I was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer. I am 38 years old. Cancer sucks. It also gives you gifts. Gifts I wish I could have received another way, but gifts for which I am thankful.

Even as I have worked for Generations United for 12 years, one of these gifts has been a new appreciation for the presence and perspective of the young and old in my life.

The young

My son has spent his twos with a mommy going through treatment. He has handled it like a champ. From abruptly stopping nursing before he was ready, to spending nights away from mommy,  to visiting her hooked up to a pole in the hospital, to being told mommy wants to but can't pick you up right now because her tummy hurts. He didn't like any of it, but he adjusted because he sensed that he had too.

"Mommy, you can't pick me up ‘cuz your tummy hurts? Oh. (pause) Can I see it?"

"Yes, honey."

(He examines the incision from surgery. Pause) "Did the doctor zip you up?"

“Yes, kind of."

(Pause) "He won't unzip it?"

"No. It will get better and won't need a zipper anymore."

"Okay, can I go play with my dump truck?"

I loved how we dealt with the facts and then moved on. The next thing I would hear from him was giggles and excitement from the sheer joy of play. I often think I owe my survival to him, both because I need to survive for him and because his spirit makes me want to continue to have more years of joy.

The old

When you are diagnosed with cancer in your 30's your peers are in shock. They are wonderful and supportive and concerned.  But the older people in your life understand. It's an impossible experience to explain to people. Most older people have already experienced it in some way. They've been forced to understand. They've survived it themselves or they've cared for or lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, or perhaps most devastating, a child.

I have a caring bridge site where I post updates online for friends and family about how I am doing. There is a guest book for people to leave comments. About 3/4ths of the comments are from older people. Many of them are my parents' friends. This is in large part a testament to how much my parents' enormous network of friends love them and me by extension. 

It's also because older people have been there and have a profound need and skill at sharing love, prayers and insight.  I am deeply grateful for them. From them we have received letters of support, monetary gifts to help with hospital co- pays, parking, housecleaning and babysitting, and simple hugs in church to remind my husband, son and me explicitly that we are loved. The gifts of the older people, many of whom only have known me peripherally, are unmatched.

To my peers, don't get me wrong, I could not make it without your support. I write this in hopes that you and others will find the opportunity to benefit from the gifts of young and old without the pain that comes from tragedy. But if tragedy comes, know that they are an ever present and perhaps unexpected essential part of our human safety net.

By way of an update, I am now in my last stages of treatment. The doctors can no longer see any cancer- Another gift. One to which I owe the young and old in my life much thanks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Social Security Stories: Bill Libro

BillLibroAs an eight-year-old, Bill Libro didn’t know the role Social Security played in his life after his father died. His mother collected survivor benefits on behalf of Bill and his two sisters. Only when the survivor benefits played a key role in his ability to attend college, did the full impact of the program hit home for him.

“What eight-year-old knows about the checks that come in?” said Bill. “My dad served in the Pacific during World War II, so I think my mother also received some veteran’s benefits as well. It only occurred to me later how important it was for Social Security to help us get by back then.”

As a stay-at-home mom, Bill’s mother spent most of her days doing chores on their family farm. They lived with Bill’s grandparents, just outside of Hibbing, Minnesota. Bill recalls how living with his grandparents helped everyone.

“Because we lived in a multigenerational household, it allowed us to extend the benefits my mom was receiving on our behalf,” he said. “Our being there allowed my mom to put some of the money aside to help pay for college-related costs for me and my older sister.”


Bill went to Bemidji State University in Minnesota, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in biology. In addition to doing farm chores, Bill worked construction jobs during summers while in high school and college. But, the money he made was never enough to cover his college tuition. Fortunately for Bill, while he was enrolled in college he also received a student benefit from Social Security that he used to help cover the cost of his classes. Others were not so fortunate. In 1981, Congress rescinded Social Security benefits for students enrolled in college.

“I saved up as much as I could each summer,” he said. “The student benefit made a huge difference and helped me remain in college and get my degree.” Now, Bill contributes back into Social Security himself as the Director for Federal Affairs for Minnesota Power.

Reflecting on his childhood, Bill is convinced Social Security played a crucial role in his upbringing.

“Our immediate family had no other sources of expendable income,” he said. “Because we lived on the family farm, we didn’t suffer like some others who were concerned with paying the rent or putting food on the table. But, we all worked hard and certainly scrimped on nearly everything else. Social Security benefits had a huge impact on our lives.”

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Grand Success Stories: Stacey Walker

Stacey Walker DeskStacey Walker was four, his little sister Cymone just one when their mother was murdered in Buffalo, New York. With no father in the picture, the siblings were facing an uncertain life at the hands of child authorities until their grandmother, Shirley Martin, made the choice that she would take them in.

It was a tumultuous time for everyone. The children had lost their mother, Shirley had lost a daughter, and all were grieving. After bringing the children from Buffalo to her home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Shirley had to confront a daunting reality: how to provide for two young children on a nurse’s aide salary. Truth was, she was nearing the end of her career—she was well into her 50’s—and she worked the night shift. Money had always been tight, but now she needed to hire a babysitter to look after her grandchildren while she toiled through the night tending to sick patients and filing medical records in the basement of one of two hospitals in the town.

“Things were tough psychologically for my grandmother,” explains Stacey. “Here she was trying to come to grips with the murder of her daughter and adjusting to the fact that she would once again assume a parenting role for two very young kids.”

“Things were tough financially, as well. My grandmother already lived in a government housing project, and although her salary had been enough to keep her afloat, she now had all sorts of new expenses: clothes, food, toys—all the basics any young child needs, multiplied by two.”

Stacey remembers that his grandmother never complained and tackled her new situation the way she always had—with strength and determination.

“She made a lot of sacrifices for us, and ended up retiring early so she could raise us. She had to buy a car to get us from place to place, another added expense. Before we arrived, my grandmother would walk to and from work.” Stacey recalls. “We barely made it financially.”

What saved them, he says, were the Social Security survivor benefits the children received because their mother had died.

“I bristle when people try to paint Social Security as merely a retirement plan for older folks who didn’t work hard enough to save for themselves,” Stacey says. “Many people have no idea how much survivor benefits mean to families whose head of household has died or is permanently disabled. I know for a fact that we could not have made it without those benefits.”

But thanks to those benefits, and an incredible woman named Shirley Martin, Stacey today is a successful man. He is a Field Organizer for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. 

Stacey was a success long before he worked for Obama’s re-election campaign. “I was always quite different from other kids in my neighborhood,” Stacey notes. “I had several interests, including sports, music, and debate. Those things cost money; money we didn’t have. But my grandmother always figured a way to make it work.”

Stacey remembers one incident in particular. “As a sophomore in high school, I was selected to attend a leadership conference in Washington, DC. Needless to say, we didn’t have the money for me to attend.

“At the time I had an internship with one of the most well-respected law firms in the state of Iowa. So, on her own—and without my knowledge—my grandmother approached each partner and asked for a donation to send me to the conference. They all contributed. Then, my grandmother persuaded our church to take up two offerings to support my trip.”

The leadership conference proved to be a critical juncture in Stacey’s life. From there, Stacey went on to earn a BA from the University of Iowa in 2010. But his college years were markedly different from those of his peers. In 2006, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America tapped Stacey to serve as their National Spokesperson. In that role, he travelled around the globe to address various groups and advance the organization’s mission. For his efforts, he was awarded the Presidential Service Award by President George W. Bush..

Through the Boys & Girls Club, Stacey learned about Generations United. In 2008, he attended the Third National GrandRally that brought together grandfamilies from around the country to push for national policy initiatives surrounding fairness in federal benefits for intergenerational families.

“At the rally, Donna Butts [executive director of Generations United] approached me and said that there was an opportunity for me to meet with staff for Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa to talk about the need for supportive policies for grandfamilies,” Stacey explains. I did, and after our chat, the Senator introduced legislation that supported our policy goals and eventually became law.”

More recently, Stacey has had the honor to work closely with members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which involved enacting parts of the President’s economic agenda, including the JOBS Act.

Pretty impressive for a guy whose early life was so tumultuous. And, as he’ll tell you, he owes it all to his grandmother.

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Grand Success Stories: Don Thompson

When you have the support of a grandmother like Rosa Martin, anything is possible—even rising to the top of the world’s biggest foodservice company. Just ask Don Thompson.

Thompson, the newly-minted president and CEO of McDonald’s, credits his success to his grandmother’s love and encouragement. Thompson spent his early childhood in a rough area of Chicago, where his grandmother raised him from the time he was two weeks old. When Thompson was ten, his grandmother decided she needed to raise her grandson in a safer environment, so the two moved to Indianapolis.

Thompson’s entrepreneurial spirit began at a young age, and was directly affected by his grandmother and her friends. "When I was 11 years old, I printed up little business cards and distributed them in a nearby convalescent home," Thompson told the Franchise Times, "The residents hired me to do errands or clean their apartments."

That entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with Rosa Martin’s emphasis on education, led Thompson to enroll at Purdue University’s School of Engineering. "My grandmother gave everything she had to get me into and through Purdue," Thompson told Black Enterprise magazine in 2007. After earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Thompson worked in aeronautics until an executive recruiter came calling. The recruiter was pitching a job that involved working with robotics and control circuitry for one of the best-known corporations in the world: McDonalds. Thompson accepted the offer and began a 22-year ascent to the top.

Now that Thompson is leading an internationally popular fast-food chain, he still remembers where he came from and the important role his grandmother played in his success. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, when Rosa Martin was told that her grandson was McDonald’s newest CEO, she began crying, saying, “I must have done something right.”

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Social Security Stories: Maureen Sullivan

MaureenSullivanMaureen Sullivan’s father made education a high-priority for his family and held high expectations for Maureen and her older sister.

“My dad was an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable man,” Maureen said. “He was a lifelong learner and he instilled a strong sense of the value of education in my sister and me.”

Unfortunately, Maureen’s father didn’t get the chance to see his daughters graduate from college. He passed away when Maureen was 14. Thankfully, however, the Social Security survivor benefits that Maureen received helped to keep her family in their home and Maureen in the school she attended.


"I was a freshman in high school and my sister was a freshman in college at the time,” Maureen said. “Emotionally, my dad's loss hit us really hard. We were hit hard financially as well. The majority of our income had come from my dad’s salary. Social Security survivor benefits really helped us to pay the bills and have food on the table. We were grateful for the support.”

“Things could have turned out much differently,” Maureen said. “Money was very tight after my dad passed away. Getting the support from Social Security was extremely important--it allowed us to say in our house and keep me in the school I was attending. I’m not sure I would have made it to college if we had to move and go to a different school.”

Maureen graduated from her local high school, attended college, and is currently working on a graduate degree in school psychology from the University of Delaware. While the family faced financial struggles, she remains positive about her future.

“I’m sure my dad would have been very pleased that we both went to the schools we did and got our degrees,” she said. “Our parents made huge sacrifices to make sure their children had good educations. Now we will be able to make good on those sacrifices by working hard and helping others.”

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fire Prevention: Prepare your Home and Family

017I2023The very first home fire I worked on for the American Red Cross was one that killed a grandmother and her grandchildren. I had been with the organization for a week and I was devastated. What I didn’t know was that for multiple reasons, home fires are all too often an intergenerational tragedy. Sometimes it happens because the parents are at work and the grandparents are home with the kids when the fire happens. Sometimes it is because the youngest and the oldest in the house need the most help evacuating. Whatever the reasons, prevention options are clear. In three steps young and old (and everyone in between) can prepare for home fires or any other disaster. The best part is it is something that the generations can do together.

fire blog post meme

1. Get a kit. Having a disaster preparedness kit both at home and in the car will help to make sure you are ready when the time comes. The kit should be stocked full of three days’ supply of food and water (less is needed in the car of course) along with a battery or hand crank powered radio, extra blankets, toiletries and other essentials one needs when sheltering in place or are forced to evacuate. When packing the kit think about what special needs your family has—diapers and formula for the baby, extra medications and insurance cards for older folks. Packing some games and a few treats (think chocolate and a few good books!) will take some of the fear factor out of the experience for everyone. Plus, having that little touch of home means a lot in case you are living in a shelter or hotel for a few days.

2. Make a plan. Having an evacuation plan to escape your home when there is a fire means the difference between life and death. Know two exits out of every room and have escape ladders installed on the second floor bedrooms. Check your smoke detectors regularly and replace the batteries often. A good rule of thumb is to change the batteries when we change the clocks (November 4th is the next time). In addition to the escape plan, know where everyone will meet after the fire. It could be across the street or at a neighbor’s house. It doesn’t matter as long as everyone knows where to go. Finally, practice your escape plan with the entire family a couple of times a year. Putting the kids in charge of the drill empowers them to take it seriously and helps to take the fear out of the potential situation.

August 28, 2011 Hurricane Irene, North Carolina<br />American Red Cross volunteer Ray Oxendine gave four-year-old Felipe Chavez a final thumb salute as the youngster and his family prepared to leave the Red Cross shelter in Wilson, North Carolina. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

3. Be informed. House fires don’t discriminate by age. We are all at risk of that disaster. But knowing what else can happen where you live whether it is a tornado, hurricane or blizzard is important. And knowing what to do and how to stay safe is essential. More details on all three steps are available here http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family.

Preparedness is for all ages, so all ages can be together without worry. Visit RedCross.org for some great resources about how to keep your family safe. Check out the downloadable Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors. There is also a great section called Reducing Fear in Uncertain Circumstances directed at helping kids prepare. And of course an entire section just about home fires.

Do you have other ideas about how seniors and kids can prepare together? Leave them in the comment section below.

Douglas Lent is the Director of Communications for the American Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region. Previously he was the Manager of Communications at Generations United. He and his wife Jaia really do have disaster preparedness kit at home and in the car.

Photo Credits: American Red Cross

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Social Security Stories: Harriet Moulton

imageWith her two children grown, Harriet Moulton and her husband began to map out how they wanted to enjoy a little more space and time together. “We figured that we had a number of years to ourselves, to do things we’d like to do. We had two empty bedrooms – one was going to be his study, one was going to be for my art and sewing.”

But a phone call six years ago derailed their plan. Harriet heard her son’s voice on the other end of the line. “Come get Damian,” he said, “or he’s going to the state. I can’t take care of him.”

She responded without hesitation. “Hold on while I get an airplane ticket,” she said. “I’ll be right there.” Harriet, who was 44 at the time, bought a ticket to Colorado and came back with Damian, her three-month-old grandson.


For several years, Harriet and her husband took care of Damian. Just before she and her husband completed the process of legally adopting Damian, her husband died in May 2010. The following October, the adoption went through but fortunately Damian remained eligible for survivor benefits.

“I’m really thankfully we were able to adopt him,” Harriet said. “It allows him to be eligible for the survivors benefit and every penny counts.”

She transformed one of their previously empty rooms into Damian’s bedroom, and the other now houses the breakables Harriet packed away once Damian started walking. “I thought at this age I’d be able to sleep late. Instead I’m chasing after a 6-year-old,” she says.

Although money remains tight, Harriet is committed to being the best mother to Damian that she can be. “He’s bubbly and fun-loving,” she says. She is sure Social Security enables her to provide Damian with a healthy and happy childhood. “If they make cuts, there would be a lot less grandparents raising their grandkids,” she says. “They just wouldn’t be able to afford it, and the kids would be forced to be in state foster care, which would be a real shame.”

More recently, Harriet needed medical treatment herself. Following a lung biopsy, she now receives a small disability payment each month as well. She is very direct about her need for the safety net Social Security provides. “It’s the difference between being in the house I own and being in a family shelter,” she said. “There would be no way I could stay here without the assistance I get from Social Security.”

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Grand Success Stories: Jamie Foxx

Jamieroc4lifeTriple threat Jamie Foxx—singer, actor, and comedian—attributes his great accomplishments to the guidance of his grandparents, Mark and Estelle Talley. They played a big part in his upbringing, taking him in as an infant when his parents split.

Foxx said that living with his grandparents was very fulfilling. "Any gaps—emotional gaps, spiritual gaps—my adopted parents filled them. So I didn't skip a beat. I was never short on the love of a mother and father, though it came from an earlier generation of family.”

At every step of the way, his grandparents’ devotion was obvious.When Foxx was in school, they attended the budding athlete’s sporting events religiously; his own father did not, despite living close by. “I was puzzled. Why couldn't he drive 28 miles to check on a son who passed a football more than 1,000 yards?” Foxx questioned. It was his grandparents who cheered him on every step of the way.

From the beginning, Estelle Talley knew her grandson was meant for greatness.“ She saw me reading early, saw I was smart and believed I was born to achieve truly special things. She was my first acting teacher,” he recalled in his Oscar-acceptance speech. She also nurtured Foxx’s musical talent, enrolling him in piano lessons at a young age. Undoubtedly these lessons helped Foxx earn his Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles in the film Ray.

“My grandmother was a confident woman. I think about what she must've endured during the sixties, when she was starting her own day-care business. She could walk
into a bank filled with white folks and say, ’Let me speak to so and so.’ She knew who she was.And with the love she and my grandfather extended to me, she passed on that confidence.”

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Grand Success Stories: Naomi Porter

Naomi PorterScreencapMy grandmother was very important in creating the person I am today,” Naomi Porter, 25, says during a break from her work as an AmeriCorps employee. “Before moving in with my grandmother at the age of 12, my life had been a mess. She gave me the love, structure and support I needed to overcome any challenges
I might face.”

Naomi has had her share of challenges. From the time she was born, until she went to live with her grandmother, she had lived a chaotic life that included three different stays in foster homes. “My sister and I entered foster care when we were very young because our mother had substance abuse issues and couldn’t find stable employment. Because of that, she basically neglected my sister and me,” Naomi explains. “Neighbors saw what was going on and called 911.”

By the time she entered the foster system for the four time, Naomi was inured to the pain of being uprooted. While foster care had not exactly become routine, it
had occurred enough times that she had no expectations except to be prepared for the worst.'

“When my sister and I showed up on my grandmother’s doorstep, she was somewhat a stranger to us,” Naomi recalls. “Because of my mother’s problems, we
hadn’t seen much of my grandmother. Even so, she never hesitated to take us in.”

Life at her grandmother’s was far different from anything Naomi or her sister had ever known. “Our biggest challenge was getting used to the amount of structure in
our grandmother’s home. We weren’t used to rules and chores, and didn’t even know about the basics, like making the bed and washing dishes. And we certainly weren’t used to someone being involved in school.”


“I rebelled some; didn’t do homework, and talked back. But my grandmother has a very strong personality; she was not bending. And even though I didn’t like it, I knew
I needed it. My grandmother was very important in creating the person I am today. She gave me a safe place to hang out and put everything back together. She helped
me become a balanced person and not engage in behavior that would affect me badly.”

“The blood connection shielded me from a lot of embarrassment during my teenage years. I didn’t have to worry about the stigma of not having a mother care for me and it helped me gain a greater sense of self. The obligation my grandmother felt toward me gave me a concept of what family is about.”

Today, Naomi works at The Belle Center, a nonprofit modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which works to help shape young people’s lives. Her current job is in
keeping with her future goals: she wants to be a college professor and would like to direct a nonprofit that serves young people. Naomi already holds an associate’s degree and is working toward a bachelor’s. Ultimately, she intends to get a master’s in business administration and public administration.

The concept of family has come full circle for Naomi. In February 2012, she moved back in with her grandmother who was injured in a three-car accident. Now it’s Naomi who serves as the nurturer and caregiver—a role she savors. “My grandmother is doing better now after a lot of physical therapy. She’s walking again. I plan to stay with her until I get married or she moves into assisted living. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Social Security Stories: George Arévalo

George ArevaloFor his next birthday, George Arévalo has a simple plan to celebrate. “I’ll be doing what I’m supposed to be doing – taking care of the children.” With his wife Virginia, 77, George has cared for his three granddaughters, ages 6, 12 and 18, for the past three years. George and Virginia depend on Social Security benefits.

“It’s there to make sure my granddaughters can go to the doctor when they are sick, eat healthy food, and live with loving family members,” George said. “That’s all I have to live on.”

George was in his 70s when he was told his son and his daughter-in-law weren’t going to be able to continue to take care of his grandchildren. The retired barber and his wife decided they would step in.

“I thought to myself, I’m not going to give them to Child Protective Services,” he says. “I’m going to take care of them. And I did. They are happy right here in my home.”


Virginia suffered a stroke one week after the children arrived. Since then, George acts as the primary caregiver for her and the children. He transports them to appointments, school, and activities. He pushed for the children to attend Catholic school, where they receive scholarships and make good grades. He opened his house to his son when he was released from prison last year. Through the challenges, George maintains a positive outlook. “Right now, we’re doing our best,” he says.

The future is hopeful for the Arévalo family. George’s son recently bought a house two blocks away. George mortgaged his own house in order to help his son with the down payment. “I’ve never seen a guy so earnestly dedicated to improving himself,” George says. “That’s why I’m trying to help him. It’s a family thing.” But George will continue to care for his grandchildren. “The children come first,” he says.

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication  Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Grand Success Stories: Felix Sanchez

280px-Felix_Sanchez_2012One of the many lessons we learned from the London Olympics: Never underestimate the power of a grandmother’s love and devotion.

That power was on display in the Olympic men’s 400-meter hurdles. It’s what made Felix Sanchez overcome years of injuries and claim the gold medal just a few weeks shy of his 35th birthday.

As he ran the most important race of his life, he’d kept his grandmother’s memory close to his heart. Pinned beneath his bib was a photo of his beloved “Abuela,” Lilian Morcelo, the Dominican grandmother who had raised him. After crossing the finish line, he knelt down, placed the photo on the ground, knelt down and kissed it. "It was extra motivation," Sanchez told reporters. "It was a reminder of why I came here and what this year meant to me."

The gold medal he won that night in London wasn’t his first, but it was his most memorable. Eight years earlier, at the 2004, Olympics in Athens, he’d struck gold, and expected to do the same in Beijing in 2008. But it was not to be. On the first day of the qualifying heats, Sanchez learned the devastating news that his 72-year-old grandmother had died.

"I got [the] news on the morning of the first round in Beijing that she had died," he explained. "That affected me. I cried the whole day. I ran, but I ran badly, and I made a promise that day that I would win a medal for her. It took me four years.”

Those four years would be filled with hope and punctuated by injuries. But throughout it all, Sanchez kept thinking of that promise and all the sacrifices his grandmother had made for him. "She was everything," Sanchez said. "She was the center of our family and kept everyone together.” She was his inspiration.

Along with pinning his grandmother’s photo to his bib in London, Sanchez had printed the word “Abuela” on his spikes. Abuela—Spanish for grandmother and a loving nod to the woman who raised a champion.

To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!


Photo Credit: Felix Sanchez victory lap of honour, London 2012 Olympics
© 2012 Egghead06, used under a Creative Commons AttributionShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Opportunity Nation Week of Action


Our friends at Opportunity Nation are hosting a Week of Action from October 8-15, 2012 to encourage people across the country to increase opportunities for young adults and equip them with the skills they need to compete in the current and future economies.

Opportunity Nation has provided a list of suggested actions and invites you to join us in taking part in one or more of the following days of actions.

Week of Action

Monday: Mentor for Opportunity

Tuesday: Measure Opportunity

Wednesday: Vote for Opportunity

Thursday: Train for Opportunity

Friday: Plan for Opportunity

Saturday: Congregate for Opportunity

Sunday: Write for Opportunity

For more information visit Opportunity Nation and be sure to read The Shared Plan to learn more about rebuilding the ladder of opportunity.  This resource can be helpful during the Week of Action.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Social Security Stories: Senator Lindsey Graham

For many working families, Social Security provides a much needed safety net against the tragedies of disability and death. Senator Lindsey Graham grew up in a family of modest means in Central, South Carolina.[1] The first member of his family to attend college, he joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps marking his entry into national service.

Several years into his studies, Graham’s family faced a double tragedy. “When I was 21, my mom died,” he said. “She was 52.”[2] The following year at age 69, his father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack.

As a college student, he and his thirteen-years-old sister depended on their recently deceased parents’ Social Security benefits.[3] At the time of her parents’ passing, Graham’s sister Darlene moved in with an aunt and uncle who lived on modest wages from a textile mill.[4] Over the next ten years, Social Security survivor benefits helped feed, clothe, and educate Darlene while Graham completed college and law school. Once his law career got off the ground, Graham became her legal guardian.


During these tough times, Graham and his sister Darlene, learned how Social Security survivor benefits can help keep a family afloat. On many occasions, Graham has spoken of Social Security’s value, saying it “made a world of difference to my family.”[5]

“I know firsthand that we cannot let the system fail people who need it the most,” he said.[6]

For more Social Security success stories, download Generations United’s publication Social Security: What’s at Stake for Children, Youth and Older Adults.

[1] Meckler, Laura. “Senate newcomer takes lead on Social Security” Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail (Feb. 13, 2005)

[2] Babington, Charles. “Graham Fills Social Security Void With a Plan Bound to Irk All Sides; GOP Senator Is a Surprise Leader On Thorny Issue” Washington Post (April 2, 2005)

[3] Draper, Robert. “Lindsey Graham, This Year’s Maverick” New York Times (July 1, 2010)

[4] Babington, Charles. “Graham Fills Social Security Void With a Plan Bound to Irk All Sides; GOP Senator Is a Surprise Leader On Thorny Issue” Washington Post (April 2, 2005)

[5] Babington, Charles. “Graham Fills Social Security Void With a Plan Bound to Irk All Sides; GOP Senator Is a Surprise Leader On Thorny Issue” Washington Post (April 2, 2005)

[6] Meckler, Laura. “Senate newcomer takes lead on Social Security” Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail (Feb. 13, 2005)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Youth Jumpstart Grantees Celebrated Grandparents Day

We are proud to share that our Youth Jumpstart Grantees did something Grand for Grandparents Day.  Each youth and sponsoring organization planned or attended an event recognizing the importance of older adults in their communities. Our creative teens and young adults developed some grand plans:

Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson Troop 1986, White Plains, NY

Last month, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Daisies in Westchester celebrated Grandparents Day with their older adult friends at the Visiting Nurse Service of New YorkDebbie Stricoff, Director of Adult Day Care Services for Visiting Nurse Service, wrote this blog post about the visit.

Victoria, from Troop 1986, has been coming to the center and coordinating activities for the seniors for the past 6 years. Here are some of her thoughts about the day…

“Sharing Grandparents Day with the VNSNY CHOICE Adult Day Center and some of my scouts was a great opportunity to celebrate grandparents. By using cooking, I was able to bring my great grandmother’s memory to life. I shared her favorite recipes and cookbooks, which she kept dear to her heart. I also shared some of her cooking devices, which helped to spark the seniors’ memories about cooking with their families.

“I wanted to share with the seniors that their legacy can continue through sharing their recipes in our intergenerational multicultural cookbook. I never got to meet any of my great grandparents, but through food and stories around the dinner table, I have a very good idea of what they were like. I know so many different cultures through my family. From my mother’s side I know Dominican food. Through my grandfather’s side, I have a taste for his favorite Polish foods, even though I never met him.

“Our memories stay alive and are passed down through food and our relationship with it. I’m so excited to create this intergenerational cookbook to inspire families to connect and share around cooking. I was able to make this project possible in part by an award from Generations United with grant funding from MetLife Foundation.”

Thanks to Victoria, the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Daisies – you have added so much to the lives of our members! We can’t wait for your next event!

Cross Cultural Community Center, Chicago, IL

At a Grandparent's Day event at Millenium Park in Chicago, Jumpstart grantees shared information with older adults about upcoming cooking and nutrition classes led by youth for seniors at the Cultural Community Center.

Boys and Girls Club of the Three Affiliated Tribes, New Town, ND

On September 10, the White Shield youth held a Family PLUS dinner. The young males made sage bundles and the female youth made traditional cornballs for the families and elders that attended. Some of the youth that participate in the Arikara class at school presented their parents/grandparents with a "memorabilia item" as well. The dinner was held in collaboration with the ladies auxiliary and the local post.

Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, Omaha, NE

On the 9/11 day of service, two days following Grandparents Day, grantees held a tribute to senior adults and talked with them upcoming nutritional classes that will be made available for older adults. The adults were urged to take what they learn from the classes and apply that knowledge when preparing meals for their families and grandchildren.

Boys and Girls Club of Fresno, Fresno, CA

During Grandparents week, young people and older adults visited a nearby senior housing complex and delivered healthy snacks to those living there. Later that week, the youth and volunteer seniors revisited the complex, playing checkers, card games, bingo and spending time with the residents.  All enjoyed a healthy fruit cup during the festivities.

Our AIM Foundation, Dunedin, FL

Our mayor issued a proclamation honoring Our Elders in recognition of Grandparents Day. During Grandparents week, officers of the GrandKids Club from each local high school visited classrooms, encouraging students from all grades to join the club.  During the educational session, the club officers encouraged their fellow students to “adopt” older adults from assisted living facilities, nursing homes and independent living facilities.  Additionally, on September 8, a group of youth visited a 96-year-old man who had been an adopted grandparent of one of the GrandsKids Club founders.

Mt. Vernon Awesome Adventurers 4H Club, Fairfax, VA

The Mount Vernon Awesome Adventurers 4H Club held a Grandparent's Day Event:  Let's Grow Together! The youth invited grandparents and their grandchildren to celebrate Grandparent's Week 2012 at the Hollin Hall Senior Center for intergenerational gardening fun! Activities included painting a rain barrel and mixing soil and plant seeds to start a fall garden.

Belton Service-Learning, Belton, MO

Belton Service-Learning celebrated Grandparents Week with retired teachers and other older citizens in the community. The teachers taught the students how to can food—a lost art among younger generations. The canned food was sold during the students’ homecoming game and the profits were used to help fill the local food pantry. 

Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Center

Youth grantees took part in the Intergenerational Community Center Fit kick-off during Grandparents week. The young people talked with older adults about Project F.R.E.S.H. (Food and Relationships for Equitable and Sustainable Health), in which youth will harvest, package and organize the delivery of fresh produce and healthy recipe cards to homebound older adults.  The young people also offered several other Grandparents Day activities, including two art projects that encouraged children to make a footprint in sand and a special picture frame for their grandparents to keep. 

What did you do for Grandparents Day? Tell us about it and we may feature it on the Together Blog!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Grandparents Day Tribute: Lillian Lynch

Lillian Secundy LynchGrandparents Day held special meaning for me this year. Generations United, where I work part-time, expanded Grandparents Day from a single-day event into a week-long celebration. We wanted not only to pay homage to older Americans, but to issue a call to action: ask them to stay involved and continue to share their wisdom and knowledge with younger folks and the community-at-large.

During that week of celebration, I also celebrated the life of a dear friend, Lillian Lynch, at a memorial service held for her on September 13. Lillian had died a month earlier at the age of 99.

Throughout her long and giving life, Lillian Lynch was  a crusader for improving the lives of children and families, especially for those most in need. In the early days of Head Start, she was a board member of the National Child Day Care Association in Washington, DC, serving as the representative of the Washington Urban League.  She had strong concerns about the lives of all young children and especially those in the inner city. When she left the Urban League she maintained her board interest, serving on the board for three terms and then as an Honorary Member after being voted in to that spot.

Age to her was no factor and she continued to attend meetings and always made comments. In recognition of her devotion and extraordinary service, Nation’s Capital Child and Family Development named a child care center after her. The center was located in the Columbia Heights area of Washington, DC, which is where Lillian served many years in an administrative capacity in a health center. She had several grandchildren and great grandchildren of her own but she was always pleased to visit “her” center where 60 children called her grandma.

About a year ago, Lillian told me she did not think she would live to be 100 and she was preparing for her funeral. She told me she wanted me to speak at her funeral and gave me an outline of the service. Six months later, when I joined her as a bridge partner at Leisure World, she reminded me about my commitment to speak  and I made an absolute commitment to carry out this mission. When Generations United began planning Grandparents Day, I wondered about contacting her son to post comments on Facebook. However, her illness became too severe and she died August 10.

I would like to offer a tribute to a woman who devoted many years of her life serving others and who had a deep love for young children, especially those in need. Her memorial service took place on the morning of the day Generations United sponsored a White House event in celebration of all grandparents. The confluence of those two events—paying homage to Lillian and attending a White House meeting on the same day—were extremely meaningful for me.

Written By: Tom Taylor