Tom and Ruth* are loving parents who raised two daughters and were looking forward to a quiet retirement from their jobs as researcher and intensive care unit nurse, respectively. But when one of their adult daughters' lives fell apart, it had a ripple effect that plunged the whole family into crisis. The couple unexpectedly found themselves seeking guardianship of their young grandchildren "in their golden years." Happily, after a year of turmoil, their lives have begun to stabilize with help from JF&CS.
"It's been a very stressful year," said Ruth. "What we have experienced from JF&CS is wonderful kindness and it has made us feel not so alone."Last year, when the couple discovered the extent of their daughter's issues, they were distraught. "Sadly, our daughter is unable to care for our grandchildren. This is a great loss and great disappointment," said Tom. "In the middle of mourning that loss we tried to put together some stability for our grandchildren. We're working hard to provide a safe, nurturing environment for them."
When the children's father disappeared and their daughter began living on the streets, Tom and Ruth realized they needed to take extraordinary steps to protect their grandchildren, ages two and seven. Not knowing if either parent would challenge them, they turned to JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a program that provides pro bono legal assistance. Bet Tzedek connected Tom and Ruth to an attorney to represent them in guardianship proceedings and they were successful in obtaining permanent legal custody of their grandchildren. In addition to the legal assistance, the JF&CS Center for Basic Needs Assistance provided financial assistance, food, and help applying for other benefits, as well as ongoing emotional support.
"The family is moving out of a year-long crisis," said Amy Willinsky, Center for Basic Needs Assistance Supervisor and Inter-Agency Liaison. "We worked with them at a time of great chaos and worry. They've put great effort into supporting their grandchildren, even under difficult circumstances. They figured out what's in the best interests of the kids."
Throughout the year, JF&CS staff coordinated care among many programs within the agency as well as with community organizations, including Early Intervention and Yachad.
"The biggest challenge is that there were many urgent needs on many levels – legal, financial, housing, medical, and emotional," said Meredith Joy, Director, Center for Basic Needs Assistance. "Our focus has been to assist the grandparents in prioritizing all the things that needed to happen and to support them in every way that we can."
Tom and Ruth are an example of how easily stability can turn into a crisis for families who are living week to week on a fixed income. "You can be educated, professional, and self-sustaining but there are certain circumstances that can shake that up," said Amy.
Center for Basic Needs Assistance Advisory Committee Chair and JF&CS Board member Steven Weil knows JF&CS provided the best possible service to this family: "There are very few agencies in Greater Boston, if any, that I know of where an individual or family can find the range of services provided by JF&CS. I support the work of the Center for Basic Needs Assistance because it lies at the heart of the agency. It helps families like Tom and Ruth's find a way out of their crisis and then searches for ways to help them sustain themselves or regain what they've lost. They do it with compassion. JF&CS goes about their work in a thoughtful way, and they have the experience to be successful."
JF&CS continues to work with this family as stability becomes the norm. Their crisis is fading and Tom and Ruth have settled into a new routine. Last month the children started preschool and second grade.
"We've lived a life so full of twists and turns," said Tom. "Amy has been incredibly supportive and helpful. She's provided us a kind and sensitive interaction and that's been enormously helpful. JF&CS has made an immeasurable difference."
"The new normal is being parents to our grandchildren. All the support has made it more possible for us," said Ruth. "JF&CS has been there for us. I don't see how we could make it without them."
*Names changed to protect privacy.