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Grandparents: The heart of the family

May 29, 2011
Salem News

As we've looked at Older Americans Month, the focus has been on grandparents who are responsible for the care of young grandchildren. Leta Johnson is the great-grandmother and her daughter, Sonia Mattern, the grandmother of three children, ages 5, 4 and 2-1/2 in their multi-generation home. Leta couldn't allow Children's Services to take the children and place them in foster care, or lacking foster families, placing them at risk by returning them to their mother who is unable to give them care they need. Leta sat down for this interview while Sonia was in court regarding the children's custody.

"It takes both Leta and Sonia and several developmental specialists for each of the three special needs children to help the children develop appropriately," said Mary Caye Bixler, director of Family Recovery Center's Kin and Kids program. "The loss of any of these specialists would be critical to the family."

Medicaid takes care of the costs of medications, doctors, dentists and necessary medical treatments for the children. The 5-year-old, Jeremiah, had tubes put in his ears and the 4-year-old, Aniko, had to have her tonsils and adenoids removed. Both of these children have bad teeth. Leta thinks it might be from milk pooling in their mouths when they were given bottles in bed. Poor nutrition may have contributed. The mother just couldn't take care of them, Leta said. But

Right off the top of her expenses, Leta had to trade her small car for a van large enough to transport everyone. "Three car seats just barely fit in the back seat," she said.

Additionally, she had a fence installed around the yard for the children's safety. If that wasn't enough, when the county tested the wells on her property, there were some costly problems that had to be resolved. She remortgaged her house to take care of these things that had to be done to provide a safe and stable home for the little ones.

"There are the expenses for gasoline for all the on-going, multiple trips to doctors visits, school functions, agency meetings, and special needs interventions, the cost of clothing, shoes and other over-the-counter healthcare items needed for the family," Bixler said.

When Leta and her daughter took the children two years ago, the plan was for reunification of the family. But the parents did not get back together and the children still are with Leta and Sonya.

Leta, mother of seven adult children, retired in 2007. She was widowed in September 2008. She tries to maintain relationships with other members of her family, but with the three little ones, there just isn't enough time.

"There is precious little time for either woman to tend to her own needs," Bixler said. "Both women are willing to work to learn and implement strategies that work with furthering the positive development of the children and to find time for Support Group for needed attention to other issues, socialization and peer support."

Leta has a couple of health issues of her own, but she's steadfast and firm about providing for the children. Family living nearby helps look after the children, and the family is eligible for 80 hours of respite care every three months. She hopes that when something happens to her, there will be someone else to pick up the load she carries.

The two oldest children, with their special needs, attend preschool at Crestview. Leta relies heavily on her faith, just goes day-by-day with the Lord, she said.

The Kin and Kids director is a blessing to the family. "Mary Caye knows how fast little ones grow," Leta said. She finds clothing for the children, brings toothpaste, tooth brushes and other things they need. The monthly meetings of Kin and Kids, held at the New Lisbon Presbyterian Church are hit and miss for Leta and Sonia. Because the children are so small, it seems that when one gets sick, they all are sick. But they go to the meetings as often as they can. She says it's good to sit down and talk to others who are going through similar situations.

"I'm shocked at how many are doing this," said Leta. "More help is needed."

"The staff is continually looking for grants to maintain the Kin and Kid program," Bixler said. "Donations and contributions are always welcomed to support our efforts and to sponsor outreach and family activities and supplies for children's projects. Individuals, community and church groups have provided funds to cover the costs of food for group meetings and events as well as emergency items that families may need and not have money for." She added that tax deductible donations can be made out to Family Recovery Center, and note in the memo line "For Kin & Kids."

The Kin and Kids program is funded by Brookdale Foundation and United Way of Northern Columbiana County. For more information about Kin and Kids contact Bixler at Family Recovery Center's Education Department, phone, 330-424-0531. The location of the June 12 meeting will be announced. Usually the group meets at 2 p.m. Volunteers are needed to help with children's activities during the support group meetings and for outings.

"High school students working on community service hours for graduation are welcomed," Bixler said.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well-being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse. For more information, contact FRC at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail,



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