With help, grandmother supports granddaughters and salvages vacation gone awry
By Anette Paananjan
"Alice's" trip to El Paso from the Upper Midwest turned out to be a very different adventure from what she had anticipated. She had made the long drive in her van, expecting to spend some time in a warmer climate with family and looking forward to meeting the father of her granddaughters.
Things went awry almost immediately. The father never showed up. Then, her daughter decided to disappear into Mexico with a new boyfriend, leaving Alice to care for the granddaughters - and no place in which to care for them. She also didn't have enough money to make the trip back to the Midwest, where she at least could have turned to friends for help. Although she got custody of the girls, she didn't feel comfortable in the El Paso shelter and decided to try Las Cruces. Unfortunately, their stay at the Las Cruces shelter was short-lived. The girls, stressed out by their disrupted lives, proved to be too troublesome to other residents. The threesome tried sleeping in Alice's van, but someone broke the windows, which scared Alice.
Jardin staff noticed the children outside the soup kitchen next door, waiting in line for a meal with their grandmother. As is their custom whenever they see a family with young children waiting for food, staff inquired about the family's needs.
Unfortunately, Jardin had run out of grant money at the time but, with donations from staff and a couple of board members who happened to be in the facility, Jardin was able to collect enough money to rent an apartment for the family. While the recently vacated apartment had no furniture or electricity for light, Jardin staff did manage to gather food and blankets so the family was able to spend a fairly comfortable night.
Alice, who suffered from many health problems and who had been injured on her job in the Midwest, received assistance from Jardin staff in applying for disability from Social Security - which, of course, took a five-year approval process, but ultimately was approved. Jardin de los Niños, meanwhile, got cash assistance for the girls and connected Alice with a support group of grandparents who raise grandchildren. This group generously helped her with rent and other bills and, after a year in the apartment, Alice and her granddaughters were able to move into a house. The girls are in school and the three occasionally stop by at Jardin for visits with staff.
Alice, who arrived in Las Cruces feeling lost and discouraged, now feels happy and content. "I came to this area just for a visit," she said recently, "but now I'm staying. This is truly the land of enchantment."
Jardin de los Niños provides therapeutic children's services in an early-learning, family-centered childcare setting, and school preparation for children ages six weeks to ten years who are homeless or near homeless. For parents and caregivers, Jardin offers comprehensive family services including parenting education programs, parenting group sessions, mentoring opportunities, on-site medical care and life-skills training. The organization also acts as a resource and information referral center, helping families find community resources that enable them to work, pursue training, or finish school.