By Joan Cronk
The lives of family members who are taking care of a child who is not their own are turned upside down – quickly.
These generous and kind folks sign up for the challenging task of raising a child, or in come cases children, and the task can be daunting.
Fortunately for those families, help is close at hand in the form of Hope Sparks and their Relatives Raising Children program.
Hope Sparks Pierce County Kinship Advocacy group held a tea on May 16 at Skyline Presbyterian Church in Tacoma. The tea was an opportunity for state legislators to learn more about the group and for caregivers to come together for support. They heard from a panel of caregivers who have a lot of experience and were willing to share it.
Two state representatives – David Sawyer from the 29th District, which includes some of the Spanaway area, and Jake Fey from the 27th District – came to learn more about kinship advocacy. The Legislature has entered a special session, and the representatives had the day off so they were able to attend the event. They were glad they did.
“Kinship funds might be cut and I find it important to talk to folks and get a sense as to how the cuts will impact them,” said Sawyer, adding that he found the panel’s discussion emotional. “When the atate invests money in programs like these, it saves the state money. This is definitely a program I’ll be watching.”
“It is part of my job to get acquainted with the state-funded programs, and I was impressed with the depth of the answers from the folks,” he said.
Karen Curtis was there and said she and her husband Jerry are raising their grandson, Adam, who is 17.
“We’ve raised him for most of his life,” she said, adding that Adam is now attending Tacoma Community College. She credits Hope Sparks with helping him with counseling and with his medical problems.
Noverta Michael, 59, found his life taking a turn when he took his 5-year-old grandson in two years ago.
“Hope Sparks is an amazing resource, and they go above and beyond to help,” Michael said. “Joshua has been my partner since he came into this world. Not a day goes by that I don’t tell him I love him. I’m the lucky one.”
Michael added that his new role has presented challenges, but is rewarding.
The panel was comprised of four experienced caregivers.
Sharon Ross is raising her niece, whom she legally adopted.
“My life has changed dramatically,” she told the audience. Near tears, she said, “I told God I will give her the best life I can and I’ll put my life on hold. I want her to know she is safe.”
Panel member Fletcher Jenkins found himself raising two grandchildren 10 years ago when his daughter passed away. “We’ve had problems, but I’m thankful to have them,” he said. “This is my second time around, and I thank God for them.”
Jenkins said he has had struggles financially and that Hope Sparks has made a real difference.
“I’ve learned it can’t be my way or the highway, and talking to other members has really helped. This group has allowed me to share my feelings,” he said.
As the panel spoke, caregivers in the audience wiped away tears and nodded their heads. They understood.
Jessie Holden, Kinship Navigator for Relatives Raising Children, spearheaded the event and said she was impressed and happy to see the legislators attend.
“It was an honor to have them,” she said, adding that the tea was a stepping-off point for the group, empowering them to be comfortable speaking in public and sharing their stories.
“Their personal voice is what is going to make the difference for funding purposes,” she explained.
An enthusiastic caregiver in the audience told Holden that the Kinship Advocates group was like “building up a little Army.”