Christina visited the Atlanta Zoo with her grandchildren Moriyah and Cayden. (Sherri Feliccia/ISDD)

Grandparents who raise grandchildren with disabilities can find aid and resources from Project GRAND, the largest kinship family services provider in metro Atlanta.

Project GRANDD (Grandparents Raising and Nurturing Dependents with Disabilities) serves more than 300 grandparents and grandchildren and is the only one focusing on families with children with special needs.

“Grandparents are the safety net right for the parents, but who’s the safety net when the grandparent has to take on this role?” Rainie Jueschke, the executive director for Innovative Solutions for Disadvantage and Disability (ISDD), which runs Project GRANDD, said.

Macie Thompson (ISDD)

In Georgia, for every child in kinship foster care within the system there are 28 in relative care, which means many more children are outside the system and have no access to resources, she said. Of those grandparents raising grandchildren, 76% make less than $30,000 a year and single females make up 88% of them.

“And that’s where we come in, we fill that gap. We can’t provide them with the foster care stipend, but we can support them in other ways,” Jueschke said.

The program provides support groups, case management, in-home tutoring, material assistance with food, clothing, school supplies, utility bill payments, and rent payments.

ISDD will hold the 17th annual Chip in 4 Children Charity Golf Tournament on May 22 at Brookfield Country Club in Roswell to raise funds for these services. 

“We also provide opportunities for the family to get together and have fun a fun day at a venue like the High Museum or go to a Braves game or go bowling go to the zoo,” Jueschke said.

Grandparents are seldom prepared to raise kids again. It’s a difficult thing to do when you are older, she said, especially if you are on a fixed income. Some are literally trying to raise kids on Social Security checks, Jueschke said.

Project GRANDD gets referrals from DFACS, the Department of Human Services Kinship Navigator Program, school counselors, physicians and therapists at the Marcus Autism Center and from the United Way, she said.

“It is a support group, grassroots efforts for these grandparents who are raising and nurturing those children with disabilities,” Buckhead resident and ISDD board member Macie Thompson said.

Project GRANDD publishes a monthly newsletter that provides useful information for grandparents to use. It offers some material assistance including food, clothing, backpacks, and school supplies for the children to use, she said.

Thompson said the program is an extension of the family but also wraparound services. It’s more than a check the grandparents get via foster care or Social Security.

“You also have to understand how to nurture and to raise that grandchild in this day and age and that’s where Project GranDD comes in. And it really holds the hand of that grandparent to raise the child together,” she said.

When the grandparents come to Project GRANDD, they think they are alone. None of their peers are doing it, so they are surprised when they come to a support group and find 10 to 15 other grandparents going through the same thing.

ISDD and Project GRANDD partner with the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library system. Georgia State programs include Helping Grandparents, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, the United Way of Greater Atlanta and Promoting Safe and Stable Families, which is a division of Family and Child Services.

Case managers with Project GRANDD make referrals to other sources of assistance, including local food pantries and the Atlanta Food Bank, Jueschke said. The Foster Care Foundation provides the bulk of the clothing donations that families need. The families will use Goodwill and thrift shops, but if you’re trying to raise a child on a Social Security check there’s just not a lot left over.

“Feeding America did a study in 2019. And they found that the mere presence of a child in the home of the senior is an indicator of food insecurity,” she said.

Robyn and her grandchild, Ashton, visited the Atlanta Zoo in an event organized by Project GRANDD. (Sherri Feliccia/ISDD)
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Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.