The College of Education’s Intergenerational Center has received a grant last month to support programs for grandparents and alternative guardians raising children in Philadelphia. But what is the Intergenerational Center — and what are the challenges North Philadelphia grandparents face when raising children?
The Intergenerational Center began in 1979 in the former College of Health Professions and Social Work. Now housed in the College of Education, the center is devoted to building and strengthening relationships among people of all different ages.
Right now, the center in Ritter Annex operates three programs: Family Friends, which connects volunteers 55 years and older with Philadelphia families or children in need of support; Grandma’s Kids, an after-school program that focuses on children being raised in foster care or by relatives who aren’t their parents, and GEAR UP, which works with high school students to help them with college preparation.
“The Intergenerational Center is about helping to show that people have value across the lifespan,” said Alysia Williams, who runs the Family Friends program.
WHAT ARE THE NEW DEVELOPMENTS?
IGC recently received a seed grant from The Brookdale Foundation, a New York-based organization committed to improving quality of life for senior citizens. With this grant, the IGC plans to provide educational workshops and support groups for families in the Family Friends program.
IGC will collaborate on these workshops with organizations across the city, including the Temple Institute on Disabilities, the Pan-African Studies Community Education Program, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and the Community-Based Prevention Services division of the Department of Human Services.
Williams said IGC is still in the early stages of planning the workshops, but the center intends to take on issues like stress relief, emotional literacy, familial dynamics and navigating public institutions, like schools.
“We hope to provide a greater opportunity for our families to connect, to be able to share their wisdom and experiences on the subject matter that we cover,” Williams said.
The new IGC workshops are expected to start early next year.
Williams said IGC will seek additional partners for the workshops.
She added that she hopes the new workshops will foster relationships with other experts in the caregiving field, as well as provide leadership opportunities to IGC’s caregivers that ultimately benefit Philadelphia’s youth.
“We plan to reach out to anyone who can help enhance the quality of life for the families that we serve,” Williams said. “We’re excited this project exists, that we’re able to help the local community.”
WHAT CHALLENGES DO ALTERNATIVE GUARDIANS FACE?
Kinship families are families led by someone other than a parent, like a grandparent or an aunt. According to the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, there are more than 13,000 Philadelphia families in which grandparents or an alternative guardian are raising children.
Williams said it is likely this number is underreported, and the number of cases increases dramatically when considering the surrounding neighborhoods of the city.
The issues that affect kinship families can vary drastically on a case-by-case basis, she added.
Some families that IGC works with have grandparents raising their grandchildren because the parents died. Other families have taken in nieces or nephews to remove them from a domestic violence situation. Others are affected by parental incarceration.
Williams said IGC tries to identify and address the needs of individual families enrolled with the center. Williams has spends her time writing reports and facilitating trainings for IGC mentors or working in a family’s home providing crib-building assistance or emotional support.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY?
Erika Palmer, the special education liaison for Paul Dunbar Elementary School, on 12th Street near Cecil B. Moore, said many of her students are raised by their grandparents. She said it can be a huge struggle for these kids.
Just last week, she had a student break down because she said she wishes she could live with her father instead.
Palmer said she thinks IGC’s programs could benefit these kids by bridging the generational gap and helping them realize they are cared for.
“They often feel like mommy and daddy aren’t there,” Palmer said. “They feel like, ‘Nobody wants me.’ But grandma is there.”
She added that IGC’s programs will help build a foundation that the community and school system can build upon to provide kids with a support system.
“At the heart of it, it’s all worth it,” Williams said. “I do not hold anything that I may go through in my day [equal] with what a family may go through trying to get what they need to the kids they’re raising.”