Mary Wilson didn't expect to be raising a 6-year-old grandson in her golden years, not to mention helping out most days with three other grandchildren.
But with her son and daughter-in-law working odd shifts and the cost of child care out of reach for both of her adult children, Wilson is usually the one serving her grandchildren breakfast and waiting for them when the buses return.
She sometimes goes with the younger children on class trips. She also joined the children recently for a fair at Lincoln Heights Elementary.
"I help raise all of my grandchildren," Wilson said. "Somebody has to do it."
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Lincoln Heights resident and grandparent Beverly Cotton Lawston thinks grandparents who step in for a second round as parents need and deserve lots of support.
Lawston has started a nonprofit called Grandparents of America Inc. to help those grandparents find information and services for themselves and their grandchildren.
"In this day and time, with the economic downturn, if there's not someone like a grandparent or great aunt, there needs to be someone to help these young parents," Lawston said. "It's too expensive to put children in day care."
Lawston says arrangements such as the one Wilson has with her grandchildren are no anomaly. Data from the U.S. Census supports that.
The number of children being raised by grandparents climbed slowly but steadily over the past decade before rising sharply from 2007 to 2008, the first year of the current recession, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.
About four in 10 children who live with a grandparent or grandparents, or 41 percent, are also being raised primarily by that grandparent, according to Pew Center analysis of U.S. Census data.
There was a 6 percent increase in 2008, to 2.9 million children being raised by a grandparent, according to the Pew center report.
In Mecklenburg, more than 6,600 grandparents were raising grandchildren, according to Census estimates in the 2005-2009 American Community Survey.
"Sometimes the first call we make is to a grandparent who can come and sit with the child or be involved," said Lenora Shipp, principal at Lincoln Heights.
Many of those grandparents are struggling financially when they step in as caregivers to grandchildren. Many live in poverty.
Grandparents need support to help their grandchildren with schoolwork and social problems such as pressure to join a gang, Lawston said.
She believes Grandparents of America can provide some of the programs to help children succeed in these formal or informal arrangements.
Lawston, a graduate of Second Ward High and Johnson C. Smith University, has recruited four board members so far as well as an advisory team.
The organization's main task will be to raise money for programs.