Gerri Mikelski thought she was done raising children after her son and daughter moved out of her home and began their own lives.
Mikelski, 63, found out after her granddaughter, Judy, was born that her son, David Burkhardt, had a drug problem.
“He and his girlfriend were more concerned with themselves; they were in their own world and not taking care of her,” Mikelski, of Pittston, a member of the NEPA Intergenerational Coalition, said.
The coalition is holding its seventh annual conference next month for grandparents raising grandchildren and without support from the program, Mikelski said, she and her husband would feel lonely.
Burkhardt got evicted from his apartment, Mikelski said, and she would not have her 9-month-old granddaughter living without a home.
Mikelski sought custody of Judy, won, and adopted her at 2-and-a-half years old.
For Mikelski and her husband John, it’s been a tough road.
Judy has a number of developmental issues and has been diagnosed with Autism, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis and other issues. .
When Mikelski first began taking care of Judy, she could not sit up or roll over. The Mikelskis sought out a number of doctors and got Judy involved in an early intervention program to help her.
Judy, now 9, has the mentality of a 4-year-old and still requires much help, but has come a long way, Mikelski said.
“She walks, talks and runs. She doesn’t read yet but she’s getting there,” Mikelski said. “I want her to be as independent as she can be because she won’t have me forever.”
Mikelski noted that when Judy is 18 she’ll be 72, and wants her granddaughter to live as normal a life as possible.
Mikelski said before she and her husband began raising Judy, they enjoyed their time together going on vacations and getting up and going whenever they wanted.
Now, most of their time is spent with Judy and doing things for Judy – and without the NEPA Intergenerational Coalition, Mikelski said she doesn’t know where they’d be.
“It’s just nice to talk to other adults and have a support system,” Mikelski said, noting that, in being older, there is no family around who can help her.
Mikelski said she and her husband also go to another support group organized by Catholic Social Services, which is also a tremendous help.
The NEPA Intergenerational Coalition began seven years ago and is chaired by Howard Grossman, who is currently the fundraising director of the Pittston Memorial Library.
The conference is aimed at helping grandparents become familiar with the network of agencies that offer assistance.
At this year’s conference, Luzerne County Judge Jennifer Rogers will be the keynote speaker, and several other workshops will address areas of parenting.
Rogers is currently assigned to handling family court and has handled a number of adoptions and custody issues. Before becoming a judge in 2012, she worked as a private attorney practicing family law.
Other attorneys will be available at the conference to answer questions and Rabbi Larry Kaplan will offer final remarks.
It is estimated that 165,000 children in Pennsylvania are being raised in households that are headed by grandparents, Grossman said.