Since Carmen McGlothlin started the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren online support group from her Tamaqua home five years ago, it has grown to include 3,000 members across the nation and around the world.
“We all become a family,” she said of the members, all of whom are raising at least one grandchild.
Members share stories of their days and talk about their challenges and successes. In many ways, McGlothlin said they are therapeutic for each other.
“Our mission is to give support, lend an ear, share stories, ideas and resources,” she explained. “We offer understanding, compassion and experience.”
And now, McGlothlin and her team have established GranderVoices Inc., with the goal of providing temporary financial assistance to individuals or families within the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren community.
GranderVoices Inc. recently became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and will be able to help in emergency or other situations.
Many grandparents – even though they are raising a grandchild – don’t qualify for financial assistance, receive social services or collect child support.
“For some, it might get down to, ‘Am I putting gas in my car or am I getting shoes for my grandchild?’?” said member Laura Mains, Mount Bethel.
Grandparents are often retired, on fixed incomes or have had to quit their jobs in order to care for their grandchildren, said Mains.
That’s where GranderVoices Inc. can help provide for necessities, or pitch in to pay for a karate class or two that a grandparent might not otherwise be able to afford.
Across the nation, an estimated 7.6 million children are being raised by grandparents due to addiction, abuse, death, incarceration or mental illness.
“We are all in the same group because of the same reasons – drug abuse and death,” McGlothlin said.
McGlothlin began raising her grandchildren in 2015.
“When my son Nicholas became an addict, I became a mom of an addict, a mom raising his children ages 1 and 2,” she explained.
The first year was a challenge. McGlothlin had to leave her job to care for the children. They arrived with nothing, and her savings account dwindled. And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“I felt so alone and isolated. I felt that no one understood our new way of life raising grandchildren. We had lost so much from this terrible epidemic: jewelry, tools, money, vehicles, finances, our lives and our retirement years,” she said.
Eventually, she and her husband divorced.
“My role now is mommy, daddy, mum mum and pop pop; I am a grandmother raising grandchildren,” she said.
McGlothlin started the grandparents’ Facebook group as a way to reach out and not feel so isolated, and never expected it to grow as it has.
Since its founding, she’s heard thousands of stories from grandparents.
“It’s a place to lend an ear,” McGlothlin said of the private group.
Mains stumbled upon the group about four years ago when she was taking care of her young grandson. She has taken in two more grandchildren – and both arrived with just a few hours’ notice.
Since it was an emergency custody case, she had nothing for them. No clothes, no car seats, no diapers or bottles. When the group learned of her situation, several members rallied to get her what she needed.
“If it weren’t for this group, I don’t think I would still be standing,” Mains said.
She admitted that raising the trio isn’t easy. She’s lost touch with friends and family who don’t understand what she faces each day.
“Not a lot of people understand our frustrations. You go through so many ranges of emotions,” Mains said. “Honestly, if you’re not in these shoes, you can’t understand.”
Michael John, Pittsburgh, began raising his grandsons when they were toddlers. He found the Facebook group and was astounded by membership numbers.
“It’s more common than you would think,” he said.
John said group members have compiled state-by-state lists of services available to grandparents.
Joy Thatcher ran a similar group for grandparents in Vero Beach, Florida, and came across Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.
She connected with McGlothlin, and within a few days, the two had met.
Thatcher’s situation was similar to McGlothlin’s; her daughter was on the streets and in and out of jail. She stepped in to raise her grandchildren, who were 1 and 2 years old at the time.
“I feel like our group is very supportive. We are a family. We are a village. It doesn’t matter where we are living, we are in this together to support each other. We comfort them and let them know that they will be OK,” Thatcher said.
She says she’s spotted posts from individuals who are struggling.
“I will inbox them personally or call them if they need help or just need someone to vent to. We are 24/7,” Thatcher said. “(Members) love our group because they feel it is a safe place. It is a home for them. We understand them because often their family members do not.”
Thatcher also hosts live feeds on topics such as managing emotions, dealing with fear of losing a grandchild and connecting with a partner or spouse.
While the group’s presence is mostly online, it has held coat drives with donations going to the Tamaqua Elementary School, Guardian Angel Recovery House for Women and fire victims of Tamaqua and Lansford. It has also collected clothing, toys, gift cards and home essentials for local fire victims and their families.
It also frequently participates in events with Safer Streets for Tamaqua’s Little Feet, a drug awareness organization that McGlothlin said “educates our town in so many ways.”
Those wishing to donate can do so through Facebook or PayPal (PayPal.me/GranderVoicesInc). Checks may be made to GranderVoices Inc. and sent to 338 Arlington St., Tamaqua, PA, 18252. Also, Amazon Smile will donate a portion of proceeds to those who register for GranderVoices Inc.
Boscov’s Friends Helping Friends shopping passes valid for 25% off on Oct. 19 are available for a $5 donation by contacting McGlothlin at 570-952-4281 or email@example.com.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Facebook group founder Carmen McGlothlin, of Tamaqua, shown at top left, chats with her team often. Also shown are Joy Thatcher of Florida, top middle, and Laura Mains of Mount Bethel, top right. At bottom from left are Becky Wilson of Ohio and Dawn Marley of Bethlehem. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO