SHERIDAN — Linda Vallejo is a certified nursing assistant at the Sheridan Senior Center, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She has raised her own three kids and one granddaughter, after her own daughter and husband died in an accident in the 1990s. And now, as of July, she is legal guardian to two great-grandchildren.
Vallejo has been a caregiver in many capacities and certainly knows how it’s done. Still, the great-grandmother attended both the November and December meetings of the new Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program at the Sheridan Senior Center.
She said it’s as much about the community as it is the training and resources.
“That’s one of the best things that they came up with was this grandparent thing,” Vallejo said. “You find out that you’re not the only grandparent out there.”
The November gathering was an introduction to the program and the December meeting focused on mental health, with guest speakers from the Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center.
Stella Montano, family caregiver director at the Senior Center, is spearheading the program. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is a component of the federal National Family Caregiver Support Program, which is run under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Montano had applied for state funds to start the program, and the money became available in October.
The program holds monthly meetings on the third Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at the Sheridan Senior Center. Montano provides a meal and an activity for the kids, and, starting in December, a guest speaker for the adults.
Montano also hopes to spread awareness of the various resources grandparents — and others — can take advantage of, such as the Low Income Energy Assistance Program or the Wyoming Independent Living program, which can help with basic home maintenance.
Next year, Montano hopes to expand the program to offer respite for the grandparents, so they can drop their grandchildren off with a caregiver for a few hours to run errands or relax.
Relaxing can be a rare treat for grandparents raising grandkids. Those who raise grandkids say it brings emotional stress.
Vallejo said her 5-year-old great-granddaughter, Kylie King, initially resisted going to live with Vallejo because it separated her from her mother, who was without a permanent residence and unable to provide her with a room at the time. But she tried to put the child’s feelings first.
“And I have to see it in her view, you know?” Vallejo said. “I mean her whole life has been uprooted.”
Sue Bohm, another program participant, agreed that the work can take an emotional toll. Bohm is helping to raise her son’s adopted daughter, Shaista, because her son is often out of town for work.
Bohm said sometimes when her granddaughter is upset, she gets angry at Bohm and her husband because she feels like they are keeping her from her mother, who lives elsewhere.
“It hurts and I have to learn how to deal with it,” Bohm said. “It hurts a lot actually.”
Bohm and Vallejo also said the work changes their day-to-day lives. The cost of day care was a shock for Vallejo, and Bohm said she is often unable to help her granddaughter with technology-related questions. They also can’t just go out for a walk anymore, or run to the café for coffee. They are parents again and have a full-time responsibility.
Bohm thinks anyone in her position would benefit from the program.
“I am just hoping that whoever— whatever grandparent is raising their grandchild comes to this just for the support and to know you’re not the only one out there, and that we’ll be there to help each other.”