Grandparents invited to join support group

Monday, August 29, 2016 - Updated: 12:01 am
By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

Mercy Sister Georgine Scarpino shook her head when she recalled the phone call she received from an elderly gentleman. His wife and daughter had died that year and he was left with raising his two grandsons. He had to quit his job and didn’t know where to turn for advice.

But shortly after she offered help she received word that he had suffered a heart attack. She later learned that the events also affected him emotionally.

“The stress of having to take on that responsibility can be overwhelming sometimes,” she said.

With recent census data indicating that about one in four grandparents have some level of responsibility for their grandchildren, the need to find support for them is steadily increasing.

The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program of Pittsburgh, a service of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, began in 2010 as a monthly support group where grandparents could share their needs. 

It will soon open its third site on the Mount Alvernia campus of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Millvale. The Millvale GRG will be a collaboration of the Franciscan and Mercy sisters.

“It will be a chance to get together with others who are experiencing the same issues and concerns,” Sister Georgine said.

The group will meet once a month during the school year Wednesdays from 10-11:30 a.m. The first session will be Sept. 21. Grandparents from the North Hills, Pittsburgh’s North Side and surrounding area are welcome.

The group will receive educational presentations on topics of importance, information on where to go for service and assistance, and a follow-up by a caseworker, as needed. Wellness days will be offered in the spring and fall.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren started its first program in McKeesport. It has met at the Intersection social service center, but will soon move to the parish hall of Corpus Christi Church. It has some 15 members, who range in age from approximately 50 to 80.

A second program opened three years ago at Holy Child Parish in Bridgeville. It has six members, including two couples.

Sister Georgine said the Millvale site was in response to calls that she received. “Crossing the river is not a Pittsburgh thing,” she said.

She pointed out that while there are presentations from outside sources, the members are often their own resource group. They trade ideas and suggestions. They are very faithful in attending the sessions, Sister Georgine noted, and they offer rides and encouragement to those who are sick.

“It develops into a relationship,” she said, adding that the people know they can speak their mind and it will stay within the group.

Recognition luncheons are held to honor grandparents for their efforts, and Sister Georgine meets with the group for lunch during the summer to stay connected. She also takes them to the Sisters of Mercy motherhouse in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood during the Christmas season for a crafts session with one of her fellow sisters.

Sister Georgine said it is assumed that most grandparents watch their grandchildren because their children are on drugs or have other addictions. But she has three or four grandparents whose children have died, and others who are experiencing broken marriages.

“It’s the whole spectrum of societal problems,” she said. “It’s not just one thing.”

Some of the grandparents are raising grade-school children who have emotional and learning problems and have been rejected by their parents, Sister Georgine said. Others are raising high school students and want to figure out where they’re coming from. The group lets them know that they are not alone.

The idea of a program for grandparents raising grandchildren stemmed from Sister Georgine’s personal experience. Her mother’s parents died when she was young, so her mother was raised by her grandmother. Sister Georgine’s great-grandmother lived with her for awhile when she was younger.

“I’ve had great respect for grandparents who do this, under all kinds of circumstances,” she said.

The program followed the merger of the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, with provinces in Erie, Rochester and Buffalo, New York. New ministries were considered, and Sister Georgine brought up the idea for the program.

Franciscan Sister Pat O’Donnell said that her order’s participation in the program reflects its charism of hospitality. She likes to think of the motherhouse as a lighthouse beacon that invites others to safety.

“We’re the beacon on the hill,” she said. “As such, our place is a place of warmth and hospitality for everyone.”

Sister Georgine said that the Millvale program can accommodate up to 15 people. A larger group, she noted, does not leave enough time for everyone to contribute. There is no charge for the monthly meetings. Those wishing to join the group should call her at 412-422-8020.

“Come and see what the group is like,” she said. “You may find others who have the same concerns and the same experiences that you’ve had.”

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