Newport event offers support for kinship caregivers

By RAY COUTURE

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-23-2023 4:10 PM

NEWPORT — Leanna Roberts followed along closely as her 5-year-old granddaughter, Layla, bounced from the sand-art table to the face-painting station inside the Newport Rec Center Saturday morning.

The two were there to enjoy a variety of free activities for kids as part of the first annual “Family Community Day,” hosted by the Newport-based nonprofit NH Grand Families. In addition to sand art and face painting, there were also superhero capes and masks to be decorated and free food for anyone who stopped by.

The reason behind the event was to raise awareness of kinship caregivers — adult relatives besides parents who care for children under the age of 18 on a temporary or permanent basis — and to show existing caregivers and the youngsters they watch over in the Newport community that they’re not alone, according to Tawna Fisher, the organization’s founder and president.

NH Grand Families has a private Facebook group with more than 80 members where caregivers can ask questions, dole out advice and commiserate together.

When Roberts first signed Layla up for kindergarten this past year, a member of the nonprofit reached out and told her about the Facebook group, which Roberts promptly joined. She was taken aback at how many people were experiencing the same thing she and her husband were.

“At first, you think you’re isolated, but (it turns out) there’s a lot of families around here like ours,” Roberts said.

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Fisher and her husband, Todd, have taken care of their 5-year-old grandnephew, Gabe, since his birth. She described leaving the hospital and not knowing what to do next.

“What people don’t realize is that when you’re older and you’re raising a child, you’re not getting any directions on what to do or where to go and that can be really overwhelming,” Fisher said. “So we (at NH Grand Families) go in and sit down with them and walk them through” whatever they’re struggling with.

Gabe calls Fisher, “Mom”, and Todd, “Dad.” While Fisher helmed the cookie-painting station, Gabe ran around the basketball court where the event was held with the typical abandon of a 5-year-old hopped up on homemade cookies and juice boxes, with Todd close behind.

Fisher said her nonprofit, which is led by her and four other board members, operates mostly in Sullivan County but won’t turn anyone away looking for help.

Roberts, 63, has custody of Layla and has acted as her kinship caregiver for the past four years.

She’s one of more than 12,000 grandparents currently raising their grandkids in the state of New Hampshire, according to data from NH Grand Families.

When Layla needed someone to hold her scrunchie hair tie, she turned to Roberts.

A few moments later, when Layla wanted the scrunchie back in, it was Roberts who put her hair up into a bun so that the face-painting artist could draw on her cheek.

Raising a child in your 60s can be a lonely experience, Roberts said.

Most of the other parents of kids Layla’s age are much younger than Roberts and her husband. Both are still working and organizing school pickup schedules can be stressful.

Roberts said she expects to continue raising Layla through adulthood. She’ll be around 75 when her granddaughter turns 18.

“I’ll take it one year at a time, I guess,” Roberts said laughing. “I didn’t figure I’d be doing this at 63, but it is what it is.”

Ray Couture can be reached at 1994rbc@gmail.com.

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