Ah, to be a grandparent. All the hugs without the tantrums. All the candy distributing without the sugar high. For many Calaveras County grandparents acting as primary caregivers to their grandchildren, the golden years are not so glamorous. That’s where the Grandparent Project comes in.

Approved for its seventh year, the Grandparent Project has been helping families across the county cope with the difficult situation of providing care to children of all ages who, for myriad reasons, are not able to be cared for by their parents.

Bonnie Danielson, project coordinator, got the ball rolling seven years ago. A program titled Special Friends had been implemented in all of the county’s public elementary schools. It was designed to provide counseling for children deemed at risk after suffering a traumatic incident.

During her work, Danielson came across a majority of kids who had suffered the loss of a grandparent.

“When we started looking at numbers it became evident that many of these children were being raised by their grandparents,” she said.

After securing the blessing of then county Superintendent of Schools John Brophy and funding from the county’s Mental Health Department through the Mental Health Services Act, the Grandparent Project was launched. The first few years were shaky and Danielson commented that the project still has trouble attracting participants.

“We often find that grandparents are very protective of their grandchildren. They’re afraid that if it seems as though they need support or assistance the government will come in and take their kids away,” she said.

To the contrary, involvement in the Grandparent Project provides family members with the knowledge and resources needed to ensure stable care for their grandchildren, including how to go about obtaining legal guardianship.

“Sometimes these grandparents are left with no more than a note scribbled on a napkin saying they’re now in charge,” explained Danielson. “The parents can technically show up any day and legally take the kids back.”

Those involved in the Grandparent Project typically meet around seven to 10 times a year in different locations across the county. There are four current service areas for 2013: Mark Twain Elementary School – for both Mark Twain Union and Copperopolis elementary schools, the Highway 4 corridor – for Vallecito Union School District, the Firehouse Group – encompassing all schools in Calaveras Unified School District and – new this year – a group serving the West Point and Rail Road Flat areas, which will meet at the Blue Mountain Coalition in West Point.

At each meeting, group leaders identify relevant topics to discuss, share stories, invite guest speakers and discuss important legal issues.

“These people are incredibly heroic,” said Danielson. “They’ve (grandparents) often got their own children to worry about in addition to caring for their grandchildren. For some parents the kids represent funding for drugs or just living expenses. They use the kids as a financial resource.”

She noted that many grandparents are also taking care of multiple children, sometimes three or four, and that a lack of respite care is one of the greatest concerns. The Grandparent Project works to identify activities like sports and summer camps that can give the grandparents a few days of rest, for what is often a 24-hour job.

“We go into the trenches with them,” Danielson said. “These are people with the least capacity left and they are called upon to carry out an endless job and they just go ahead and do it. This is what good people do.”

Though named the Grandparent Project, the program is open to anyone who is not a direct parent caring for a child. There are currently about 30 regular participants, not even a third of the known number of families raising children in similar situations.

“We just want to connect these families with one another so they don’t feel so isolated,” said Danielson.

For more information regarding the Grandparent Project, contact Danielson at 754-3023 or homesteadpj@ yahoo.com. A meeting for the Firehouse Group will take place from 10:30 to noon Thursday, Feb. 14, at the Jenny Lind Firehouse, 6501 Jenny Lind Road. Speaker Denise Combs will be discussing how to understand and help traumatized children.

Contact Kristine Williams at kristine@calaverasenterprise.com.