Grandparents enjoy a private moment before returning to the grandchildren. (Courtesy photo)
Grandparents enjoy a private moment before returning to the grandchildren. (Courtesy photo)

Most Americans know grandparents, perhaps even like they themselves, who have taken on the fulfilling yet often arduous task of raising their grandchildren, carrying out daily tasks like preparing breakfast, getting the children to school, organizing their activities and helping them with homework every night.

And while it’s nothing particularly special, two more surprising and noteworthy pieces to the story may be well worth examining: 1) the number of children nationwide who reside with an estimated 2.9 million grandparents – a number released by The Children’s Defense Fund in 2017 that has continued to rise annually since the mid 1990s; and several changes among contemporary social conditions that have been attributed to today’s surge in “grandfamilies.”

But years ahead of the need for safe, affordable housing for “grandfamilies,” a Pentecostal preacher from Columbus, Ohio, who moved to the District at the age of 19, first preaching on the streets with a fireplug as his pulpit before founding the Bible Way Church in Northwest that would one day become a global ministry, saw a need. He, Bishop Smallwood E. Williams, discerned that leaders of the District needed to provide better options for the elderly, the poor and particularly for Blacks and other minorities.

Today, his vision, which first took shape after construction plans by the city for the highway threatened the physical existence of his church and led Smallwood to advocate, working with both federal officials and D.C government, for the construction of affordable housing for seniors that would also include an intergenerational center, has become a reality.

In 2016, as Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen and leaders of Bible Way Church stood by, ground was first broken on Plaza West (307 K Street, NW) which has now been completed and contains 50 units devoted to “grandfamilies” modeled after a facility already built in New York that has made life much easier for the city’s elderly and their grandchildren who live with them.

Elizabeth Everhart, Mission First Housing Group, senior development manager and Jamarl D. Clark, Grandfamily Community Life Program Manager – Plaza West, say they’re excited about the many programs and plans that continue to unfold. And while they started a waitlist right after the groundbreaking and which started a buzz among seniors, “People don’t really believe it until they see it,” the two said.

And so, it seems that seeing is believing and there are plenty of perks that potential renters can take full advantage of.

“The District’s grandparents caregivers program is the only one in the U.S. that provides cash subsidies for everyday household expenses and that’s critical for citizens who need affordable housing that caters to them and addresses their unique needs,” Everhart said.

So far, about 100 applicants have gone through the first battery of screening, almost all of them from Southeast and with 95 percent of the applicants female, single and the head of their households.

Clark said he’s excited about the opportunity to bring together a new community.

“There are age limits that determine eligibility but the key element is that we now have a facility that supports seniors who are raising youth – youth under 18,” he said. “You can’t imagine the challenges that a 70-year-old grandmother must face as she seeks to understand the needs of a two-year-old grandchild. Besides that, we have to assist them so that seniors and youth can better communicate. We want to make today’s technology less intimidating. Above all, we want people to know that a new village has emerged within their midst and that we are all in this together.”

For more information or to secure an application, call 202-969-0103. Units are now available.

Part two of this story will share more information about Park West and some of the ways staff members and volunteers are working to make life better for D.C.’s grandfamilies.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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