- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

Grandparents got the VIP treatment yesterday during a special luncheon hosted by the Greater Washington Urban League at the Marriott Metro Center in Northwest in honor of National Grandparents Day.

Seventy-five grandparents, the majority of whom are raising grandchildren, were treated to an elegant meal in the Marriotts ballroom yesterday. The grandmothers received corsages and the grandfathers boutonnieres before they were seated for the two-hour program, which included the music of the West Biles Trio.

Most of the invited guests live in the District. They came from the Urban Leagues Aging Services Program, the citys Head Start programs and the Grandparents on the Move organization.

Audrey Epperson, education director for the Greater Washington Urban League, said the luncheon came about because the organization wanted to do something special for the grandparents, especially those who have become primary caregivers to their grandchildren. This is the first event of its kind, but Ms. Epperson said she hopes to hold the grandparents celebration annually.

Many grandparents are pulling double duty, she said.

From 1970 to 1997, the number of children living in homes maintained by their grandparents nationally increased from 2.2 million to 3.9 million, a 77 percent increase, according to the Administration on Aging of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The afternoon was designed to give grandparents a respite from the day-to-day activities involved in raising children, Ms. Epperson said."These are families who need support, recognition and relaxation," she said.

"Not only do we want to say to these grandparents that we appreciate what they are doing and understand the many demands made upon them, but we also want them to know that the Greater Washington Urban League is available to assist them. We have services that support children and the adults in their lives who have taken on a parenting role," Ms. Epperson said.

Wilma White, 51, said she thoroughly enjoyed her afternoon getaway at the Marriott. She and her husband, Vincent, 52, who raised three children, are raising three grandchildren, ages 8, 4 and 2. The childrens mother, who is 27, lives in their home in Southeast and is on welfare.

Mrs. White and her husband take the children to their doctor appointments, the dentist and the playground. Mrs. White attends the PTA meetings. She does the grocery shopping and the cooking, and dresses the children for school.

"Its hard, but if I dont do it, it wont get done," Mrs. White said.

"My daughter is talking about moving out, but I think it will be a hardship on the children. And it will be a hardship on her as well, because shes not ready. Everybody tells me to let go, and I know this, but my daughters not ready," she said.

Its all about the children. Just ask Mary Jackson of Southeast, who took on the responsibility of raising five grandchildren.

Mrs. Jackson, 61, found herself starting again in 1981, when her daughter went into postpartum depression and never fully recovered, she said.

Mrs. Jackson and her husband, John, brought a baby girl home to live with them. Two years later, in 1983, the Jacksons embraced their daughters second child because she was hospitalized.

Another of Mrs. Jacksons daughters was on drugs, and the Jacksons took her three sons. Mrs. Jackson said she has custody of all but one of the children, a 7-year-old.

She founded the District-based organization Grandparents on the Move, 10 years ago. Its purpose is to motivate grandparents and to keep their spirits lifted, she said.

"My organization tries to give them something to look forward to - some time for themselves - a little relaxation. These grandparents have been through a rough time," she said.

The afternoon was topped off by Gail Dixon, a local favorite who sang a number of songs that the audience could relate to. Ms. Dixon joked that she was relieved to know from organizers that the audience preferred the music of their generation.

"That was great because I dont know any P. Diddy or J. Lo," she told the group.

As she sang "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "I Get Misty," the grandparents swayed in their seats and sang along.

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