Free support group for Pulaski County families

Participants in the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group gather for a recent meeting in Dublin. (Photo – M. Wade/NRVCS)

Nearly ten percent of Virginia children under the age of 18 currently live in homes where householders are grandparents or other relatives.

Cathy “Cat” Songer

Locally, data shows that Pulaski County has a significantly higher number of households with grandparents raising grandchildren than any of the other jurisdictions in the New River Valley. In fact, a 2016 report from the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development & Family Science indicates that there are 583 households in Pulaski County with grandparents raising grandchildren (GRG). (By comparison, Giles County is second of the five jurisdictions, with 361 GRG households.)

More than half of Pulaski County’s GRG households have no parent present, meaning the daily responsibilities of caring for a child often fall squarely on the shoulders of grandparents, or even great-grandparents in some cases.

This is a key reason that NRVCS (New River Valley Community Services) has re-launched the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group for Pulaski County families. Although the group had been relatively active, it struggled to stay in tact following the retirement of volunteer Julie Williams, who had been responsible for coordinating and facilitating the meetings.

With this in mind, NRVCS spokesperson Mike Wade says the agency has allocated funding from a grant to help pay for a part-time facilitator. Those funds will also make it possible for support group meetings to happen twice each month – with one meeting in Pulaski and the second in Dublin. This effort is also being supported by the New River Valley Agency on Aging.

“The group had strong participation in the past and we know the need is still there,” explains Wade. “Many families are dealing with an adult child who is out of the picture due to being incarcerated, struggling with substance misuse and addiction, or unfortunately, in some cases, deceased.”

“So, it’s important that we do all we can to support these families by connecting them with peers and resources in the community so that they have best chance possible for success,” he adds.

Wade noted that Cathy “Cat” Songer, who was already employed by NRVCS as a part-time parent educator, will be facilitator of the GRG support group.

Songer, who has lived in Blacksburg for the past 33 years, has been a foster parent, step-parent, adoptive parent, grandparent and great-grandparent.

“I began studying parenting at age 35, when we went into foster care and realized I didn’t know what I was doing,” says Songer. “I began teaching it about 10 years later.”

Songer holds four different related certifications and has taught in schools, churches, for private groups, and individuals. She also conducts workshops for continuing education and parenting presentations for various professional organizations and civic groups.

Wade and Songer are quick to point out that the GRG support groups are not strictly limited to grandparents or great-grandparents, as other family members also often find themselves as primary caregivers for a relative’s child.

The meetings for Pulaski area families will be held on the second Wednesday of each month from 10 a.m. – 12 noon at Memorial Baptist Church (995 Peppers Ferry Road, Pulaski). The support group for families in the Dublin area will be held the fourth Thursday of each month from 10 a.m. – 12 noon at the Dublin United Methodist Church (424 E. Main Street, Dublin). Both meetings are free and light refreshments will be available. (Grandparents/caregivers attending the Dublin meetings are also invited to enjoy lunch at the church, immediately following the group meeting.)

If you have questions or need additional information concerning the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren group, call 961-8420 or email mwade@nrvcs.org.