Grand Day for a GrandRally

Nearly 600 grandparent and other relative caregivers nationwide gathered today on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol at the Fourth National GrandRally to make their voices heard and raise support for grandfamilies – and they sure succeeded in doing so.

The Love, Hope and Spirit Choir, whose members are staff and grandparent caregivers from the Pittsburgh-based A Second Chance, Inc. kicked off the event with a rousing version of “Grandma’s Hands,” which moved the crowd to their feet and brought tears to their eyes … including mine.

Rev. Dr. Clifford Barnett of Wilmington, N.C., provided an invocation – and motivation – for the gathering, defying the skies to rain and praising the relative caregivers for the important roles they play. The crowd was primed (and the rain held off until after the rally.)

The line up of speakers, adeptly ushered through the program by emcee Donna Butts of Generations United, included seven kids raised by grandparents and other relatives, three grandparent caregivers and one uncle who is raising four nieces and nephews. Their stories were moving and even shocking at times; all were inspiring. Overcoming difficult odds was a common theme. It never ceases to amaze me how these grandfamilies become advocates. They not only survive; they thrive – all they need is access to resourceshelp dealing with tough issues such as legal, financial, health, housing and work challenges, and a little support.

As the GrandRally crowd prepared to visit their congressional representatives to educate them about their challenges and needs, several Legislators took the stage  to voice their own support for the growing numbers of grandfamilies. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) discussed their priorities, including the need to support foster care and preserve Social Security for today’s kids being raised by grandparents and for future generations. We hope their fellow legislators listened to their grandfamily constituents today with similar messages. Those who couldn’t attend the GrandRally in person had the opportunity to call in using an AARP toll-free number to call their members of Congress and express their support.

The choir closed the rally with a rousing performance to send the delegations of grandfamilies off across Capitol Hill to visit their members of Congress. As they headed out, energized and recognized, a group of grandmothers told me they had been to all four GrandRallies (2003, 2005, 2008, 20011) and they wanted to know the date of the next one. I told them those of us who organized the GrandRally would have to get a little sleep first … but we’d let them know.

And I have no doubt, they’ll be there, in the front row once again, advocating for the nearly 8 million children living with grandparents and other relatives and representing their over 2.5 million fellow grandparent caregivers.

The National GrandRallies are co-sponsored by AARP, Child Welfare League of America, the Children’s Defense Fund, Generations United, Grandfamilies of America and the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights