WHITE HALL — Bonnie Dunn’s mother gave up her only child just four days after giving birth.
The rest of Dunn’s life would be shaped by this decision. She ended up being raised by her grandparents who performed all the duties that would normally be done by parents.
“I don’t know where I would be today,” Dunn said. “My mom... lived with us for a while and then she remarried and left, but she had turned the raising of me over to her mom and dad, and I am so grateful for the [sacrifices they made].”
On Monday, Dunn led a workshop training session at Pierpont Community and Technical College’s Advanced Technology Center. She detailed the resources available to people who are raising their grandchildren. But she also discussed how officials within the community should interact with these grandparents and their situations.
Dunn presented information about grandfamilies, including her own experience growing up. The training is part of a statewide initiative to bring the Healthy Grandfamilies Program to every county in West Virginia, to ensure the growing number of grandfamilies in place are able to thrive.
“My newest charge from the state Legislature, because they have funded the project for this year, is to put this program in all 55 counties in West Virginia,” said Dunn, Healthy Grandfamilies program director for the West Virginia State University Extension Service. “To develop the coalitions in every county and from there we will be monitoring and be a resource to those counties from the university.”
According to Dunn, West Virginia is No. 2 in the nation for the number of children being raised by one or more grandparent. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report from April, states that have higher opioid prescribing rates are those hit hardest by grandparents raising their grandchildren. “The Opioid Prescribing Rate and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: State and County Level Analysis” used Census data from 2012-16 to publish the report.
Dunn said it’s necessary for representatives from several community organizations to be involved because of the number of services a grandfamily may need.
“Since it’s such a collaborative effort with the different topics we have, we want to bring in different experts in those areas,” said Riley Freeland, social worker for Harrison County Healthy Social Services. “We rely on those people from the community, so that’s why we have them all here today to see what their interest level is and how we can start this together.”
Present at the training were representatives from several community assistance organizations, which provide aid for those in need, including members of grandfamilies. Some organizations represented included the United Way, Marion County Schools and the Family Resource Network.
The United Way of Marion and Taylor counties is one of the sponsors of the program, so its representatives attended to get some background information on how it will function in their districts.
“This is hopefully a problem that collectively we can solve,” said Chris Yost, 2-1-1 AmeriCorps Member at the United Way. “This is a great program to have for Marion and Taylor counties because it’s a need that West Virginia truly has that has not been appropriately addressed in the past.”
“I know kids that are affected by it,” said Gatsby Rider, office manager for the United Way. “I know kids who are not being raised by their parents because of things like drug abuse so it’s definitely important to have.”
School personnel also have regular interactions with kids being raised by their grandparents, so being armed with the knowledge and resources available to them is imperative to success in school.
“It’s just great to partner with family services,” said Steve Malnick, curriculum and instruction officer for Marion County Schools. “Any time that we can help our students, help our families, we will definitely look into that. It’s a very important initiative not just in our county but in our state.”
Officials from Taylor County also attended the session.
“We have been recognizing for a number of years in Taylor County that we do have a lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren,” said Linda Casto, director of curriculum and federal programs for Taylor County Schools. “Actually, Bonnie met with us last week to explain what healthy grandfamilies would look like and what we could do to partner with the program.
“We’re just looking forward to offering this program to grandparents because there is such a great need.”
According to Freeland, this type of discussion and training will take place in locations throughout the state as the year goes on. She said in the fall, the organization plans to host sessions for the grandfamilies, who will by then have several places in the community to turn to for help.
“Grandparents will come and they will get a different topic each week,” Freeland said. “Then at the end of the eight weeks, they get follow up service from a social worker. So that could be from ‘Let me just give you a call on a monthly basis to see if you need anything,’ or if families are more in need of stuff, ‘Let’s hold your hand through this whole process.’”
Dunn said these trainings will continue to be held through the partnership with family services, and organizations throughout West Virginia should be aware of when these sessions will take place.
“It’s interesting how sometimes your life will go full circle,” Dunn said. “But I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here and to help West Virginia do something for these families.”
For more information on the Healthy Grandfamilies initiative, or to see when and where these trainings will be held in other counties, visit healthygrandfamilies.com.
Email Eddie Trizzino at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @eddietimeswv.