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

Preparedness is for all ages, so all ages can be together without worry. Visit 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:

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!