Grandparent Family Apartments Facing Program Termination

The programs in the Grandparent Family Apartments on Prospect Avenue may face extinction after the most recent State budget cuts.

The Grandparent Family Apartments are they only homes in New York State reserved exclusively for grandparents raising grandchildren of whom they have legal custody.

In addition to providing housing, the apartments employ social workers who conduct group counseling sessions, help kids with homework, take them on field trips and try to keep them engaged and away from antisocial behavior, likes gangs and drugs.

Since the grandparents are in their 70s and 80s, and can’t keep up with the children and teenagers they are raising, they rely on the building’s programs to keep their children busy. However, the most recent state budget has cut the funding that supported those programs.

The families are not at risk of being evicted, but if the Grandparent Family Apartments cannot secure $300,000 in funding, the programs will be discontinued.

“We talk about how awful it would be, because that corner is like a firecracker,” said Melvenia Smith, 74, who has raised two daughters in the apartments since it opened five years ago. “But as long as the computers are here, as long as the counselors are here for their problems, they always have something to do.”

The funding for the programs are expected to run out around July 1. That is a precarious time for the grandparents, because they wouldn’t have school to keep their children busy during the day.

Rimas Jasin is executive director of Presbyterian Senior Services, which helps run the apartments. Since the budget was passed, he has been lobbying law makers to find a way to get the programs a financial lifeline.

“We’re working very diligently to contact our elected officials throughout the state, let them know about the issue,” Jasin said. “Everybody’s been writing their legislators, the kids have been writing letters.”

Jasin says the reaction has been positive, but so far no one has been able to come through with the funding.

The Grandparent Family Homes is a nationally-recognized model, and most likely the only one of its kind in the country to offer social work programs. It was featured on CBS 60 Minutes earlier this month.

Katherine Martinez is deputy director of Presbyterian Senior Services and head social work at the apartments.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know, in terms of the budget cuts, what’s going to happen,” she said.“These grandparents are trying to provide a safe environment for their kids.”

According to those involved with the social programs, keeping kids away from the temptations of a rough neighborhood are their most important point.

“You’ll have incarceration, I believe, if our kids will be put back on the streets,” Martinez said. “Not having the programs will put them back into harms way.”

And as much as the grandparents look after their kids, they can only bridge the generation gap so much.

“My granddaughter is 15,” Melvenia Smith said. “I’m 76. I’m old fashioned. I don’t like short skirts and boots, I can’t counsel my teenager. And being a teenager, you need someone to confide in.”

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