Devon Boyd entertains Kinship Care grandparents by playing his acoustic cello, Rose. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — Devon Boyd reflected Friday on what his life might be like if not for his grandparents.
For the high school student, his grandparents aren’t folks he visits on Sundays — they are his parents. Boyd and dozens of kids like him in Clayton County are being raised by their grandparents.
The 10th anniversary of Kinship Care Resource Center in Jonesboro was celebrated Friday. Boyd and dozens of grandparents and grandchildren gathered to reminisce and show their appreciation to what the program has meant to them.
For some grandchildren, their parents are locked up or have mental health or drug issues. Others, like Boyd, have lost one or both parents to accidents or illness.
Boyd entertained the group with performances on his acoustic and electric cellos — both provided him by his grandparents.
“Where would I be if I had not been taken in?” he pondered. “I wouldn’t be playing music, I wouldn’t have this awesome cello. I wouldn’t have my wonderful grandmother.”
Boyd’s father was killed in a car crash when he was younger. His grandmother, Yvonne Boyd, said Devon was already living with her and her husband at the time so they just retained custody.
“The loss itself was tragic enough,” she said. “It was a life-changing decision to raise a grandchild and we were blessed with family support. But Kinship Care became an oasis for us. We could vent and share with like-minded individuals.”
Boyd spoke at the celebration as representative of the nine original grandparents who kicked off the program 10 years ago. She said there is solidarity in the shared adversity they all experience in raising a second generation of children.
“We’re not typical grandmothers sitting around knitting,” she said. “The center has offered us love, knowledge and understanding. Kinship is aptly named, too. ‘Kin’ means they’re related to you, as all of us are.”
Abby Dixon spoke on behalf of the founding grandchildren. She said she was 7 when her grandmother took in her, her twin brother, Robert, brother Brandon and sister Katie.
“She was 69,” said Dixon, realizing she may have given up a family secret. “Sorry, Grandma.”
The group, which included Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner and Kinship program Coordinator Angie Burda, laughed and applauded the teenager’s comments.
“This program became a lifesaver for us,” she said. “It’s common to think you are alone in this struggle. My grandma lost her husband. She was all alone in fighting for custody of us.”
Dixon said she and her siblings have taken advantage of the wide-range of activities available to grandchildren at Kinship Care. Her grandmother, too, is active with the other adults who take trips, socialize and enjoy monthly breakfasts.
Support is paramount, said Burda.
“For the first support class, seven people showed up,” she said. “The classes were supposed to be monthly. One of the grandmothers asked if they would have to wait a whole month before getting together again.”
Burda said she announced that if at least 20 people showed for the next class, she’d ask the county about having meetings more often.
“The next month, there were 25,” she said. “And we haven’t had fewer than that since and that was 10 years ago.”
Burda said it is vital that grandparents understand they are not alone in their struggles.
“You learn there’s other people just like you out there,” she said. “Support is best because you have each other.”
In addition to yearlong support and programs, the center offers after-school care for about 30 students, a summer camp and a Christmas Angel project. Yvonne Boyd said the Christmas donations are a godsend for many families.
“The community provides the gifts,” she said. “And it’s good stuff, too, it’s not second hand. The kids get bikes, instruments, everything their hearts desire. It’s quality and new.”
Some of the grandparents have already retired when they take in their grandchildren. Some have to return to the work force during a time they should be enjoying their golden years. All who participate in Kinship Care activities find hope, support and empowerment.
“This program gives us the motivation to fight for senior rights,” said Boyd. “We go to the Capital and lobby. We actively wait to hear about the passage of bills that are important to us.”