Tuesday, January 19, 2016

More Than a House: A Community for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

This story first appeared in our State of Grandfamilies in America: 2015 report.

In the Bronx borough of New York City, an apartment building rises above the streets, safely housing grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, giving all of them – young and old – a supportive community where they can nurture a positive family future.

The Grandparent Family Apartments building – a joint venture of PSS and the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing – has pioneered a successful model that draws attention from around the world.

“Primarily, these are situations where the grandparents have really stepped up and taken on an enormous responsibility,” said PSS Executive Director Rimas J. Jasin. “They don’t have the income or, often, the physical resources. But, family is important to them, and they’ve made the commitment to do what they can.”

The 50-unit building opened in 2005, after years of planning and intermediary measures to help the suddenly increasing number of lower-income grandparents who took custody of their grandchildren during the crack cocaine and AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. Whether in senior-only housing or in homes that became too small overnight, these grandparents needed to move.

Jasin said everyone involved understood that the adults and the children needed shelter and much more.

“That’s why we built more than an apartment. We made sure, through the PSS Kinship Program, that there is a supportive environment with social services, skill building workshops, programming for the kids, counseling, intergenerational activities, etc.”

“That’s the one big difference between our building and other similar buildings: It’s a real community, and we have staff on site who foster that value,” Jasin said. Our families know they’re part of something special, and they’re proud of that.

Plus, we’ve grown together over the last 10 years, learning from each other, so there is that dynamic of community and an expectation for people to be supporting members of that community.”

About 60 grandparents and 100 grandchildren live in the Grandparent Family Apartments. One measure of success is that last year, more than 90 percent of the children progressed to their next grade in school.

Jasin noted, “Putting into words why this place is great is hard. We’re able to help them navigate systems and situations, the grandparents support one another and, in the end, these kids have a much better chance than they would have on their own.”

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