- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

For a woman who has spent her life nurturing and caring for other people's children, as well as her own, it's jolting to hear Joyce Madyun state emphatically: "I don't believe in baby sitters."

The 53-year-old mother, grandmother and caregiver adheres to one rule: "I don't think children should be in day care until they are old enough to talk so that they can tell their parents how their day went." That's at least 5 years old, in her book.

Even though she owns and operates the Y.O.U.R. (Youth Organizations United to Rise) Community Center for school-age students and teens in her Northwest neighborhood, her infant grandchildren are being cared for "in a nice, peaceful environment" by her 74-year-old mother in her nearby home.

Mrs. Madyun and her mother are among the growing number of grandparents who are entrusted with caring for their children's children. Some, unlike this stay-at-home mother, are even the sole guardians for grandchildren whose parents are either unwilling or incapable of their care.

The 2000 census indicates that 2.4 million grandparents are primary caretakers for children under 18, putting a serious strain on limited finances just as their earning potential decreases significantly with the onset of retirement. God bless them. That's why more states should make obtaining guardianship an easier process for grandparents in addition to offering child care subsidies similar to those allotted to foster parents.

With her five children grown, Mrs. Madyun eagerly and voluntarily becomes a surrogate parent throughout most of the school year with her before- and afterschool care program, now situated near West Elementary School at 14th and Farragut streets NW.

During the summer, she transforms her education-enrichment program on building skills into a low-cost Camp-on-the-Go. A year-round teen center is also housed in the big two-story Victorian that she purchased by mortgaging the Farragut Street home she's shared with her husband of 31 years, Qaadir.

"It has always been my dream to provide a place where children want to come and enjoy being and improving themselves," said the soft-spoken Mrs. Madyun. And, her center is a welcome haven for about 50 D.C. parents this summer as many others scramble to find alternative settings for their school-age children in the wake of unconscionable cuts by the city for public summer school and day care.

These frantic parents, many of whom are still attempting to shift from welfare to work, would not be able to finish high school, get job training or go to work without child care.

D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, chairman of the Human Services Committee, rightly asked the Inspector General's Office to investigate whether the city's Office of Early Childhood Development misspent or misdirected $55 million in funds that should have paid for day care subsidies for the working poor. Some of that money supposedly was shifted to cover the cost of free after-school programs open to all students, regardless of their ability to pay.

"Being a stay-at-home mom, I am really sensitive to working parents and children's needs," Mrs. Madyun said. Her small center allows her the opportunity to establish meaningful relationships with the parents and their children, who often tell her they want to call her Grandma.

Mrs. Madyun speaks of her blessings to have been able to stay home when her children were young. When her husband's job took the family to Africa, she home-schooled her children using an American-based program. The couple also became the primary caretakers of their first grandchild so their daughter could finish high school and go on to graduate from Hampton University. "She is now married with another child and another one on the way," Mrs. Madyun said proudly. "My husband and I enjoyed our children and now our grandchildren."

Initially, Mrs. Madyun cared for children in her home. Then she was asked to help establish an after-school program at the West Elementary School under the auspices of the Parent-Teacher Association. About five years ago, the deteriorated corner house went on the market and the rest, as they say, is history.

During the year, she enlists the help of American University students to help other students with their homework or to build upon their academic and computer skills.

During the summer, the children go on field trips daily. This summer she is also host to 15 D.C. teens as part of a summer jobs program with the Department of Employment Services.

What Mrs. Madyun likes most about having her own space now is the individual interaction she has with parents as well as students and her ability to open as early and stay as late as working parents need her service.

Also, "when [the students] come to me [after school], they get a fresh staff and a fresh start," she said, and when they get home their homework is done and that cuts down on family friction in the evenings.

Mrs. Madyun does not pay herself a salary. With her 62-year-old husband's financial help he's retired but drives for a limousine service and several grants and donations, Mrs. Madyun said it's been "tough times" to pay both mortgages, but "we're still here." Happily, she recently received notice that her organization has been incorporated into the combined United Way campaign fund and she's hopeful that will bring in additional funding.

Why did she take on this debt and these children at a stage in life where she could be winding down and relaxing?

"I do it because I know a lot of [the children] would be left at home, and I wanted them to see me as caring."


For information about Y.O.U.R. Community Center, call 202/291-8112 or e-mail: your4913@hotmail.com.


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