Grandparents Raising Grandchildren celebrates major milestone


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Mary Ann Sterling created Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. The organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Klinton Landress

In 1990, Mary Ann Sterling was a young grandmother pursuing a busy career at Harris Corporation when her daughter perished in a car accident, leaving behind a 6-year-old son whose father chose not raise.

Sterling had to embark on a second motherhood, juggling career while bringing up a family again. Because her job involved extensive travel, she eventually had to leave work to care for her grandson. When she could not find a support group, she created one, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

As Grandparents’ Day approaches Sept. 8, Sterling looks back at how her grassroots organization has helped thousands of Brevard “grands” find the physical, emotional and financial strength to embark on a second parenthood in their later years.

“There are 8,700 children in Brevard not being raised by their parents and only 200 of them are in foster care,” Sterling said.

“The majority of the others are being raised by their grandparents. Grandparents save the county $40 million a year in foster care costs.”

The nonprofit Sterling started with six members in 1994 now numbers 1,500 local grandparents and other relatives. The group provides counseling and other resources to grandparents raising the children of relatives.

“We’re the largest support group for grandparents in Florida,” Sterling said.

The group encompasses a broad spectrum of grandparents, some as young as 35, others well into their 80s. In the majority of cases, the grands take over when one or both of their grandchildren’s parents are in jail, primarily because of alcohol or drug abuse. The grandparents are often left in a legal limbo regarding the child, because the parents do not officially give them guardianship.

“They have no legal rights for making medical or school decisions for the children,” Sterling said.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren helps ensure these grandparents and other caregiving relatives have the resources they need. Five support groups meet monthly. An information/resource/referral “warmline” serves families and professionals. Social activities provide opportunities for these families to get together and gain strength from each other.

To celebrate its quarter century — and to raise funds to help more grandparents —  Grandparents Raising Grandchildren will host a golf tournament Oct. 5 and a 25th anniversary gala on Nov. 3 at Rockledge Country Club.

Sterling’s grandson, by the way, is now a successful attorney and a member of the board of directors of the organization his grandma founded.

For more information, call 321-631-7776 or go to grandparentsraisinggrandchildren.org.