Monthly meetings are held in the Fireside Room of Trinity Community Church, UCC at 7022 Riverside Drive (26th Street at Riverside Drive), Berwyn, Illinois. For more information contact Adrian Charniak through the church office at 708-484-1818.
Other events (clothes drive, Christmas gatherings, etc.) are scheduled throughout the year. Check the church calendar in our monthly newsletter for more information.
History of the Grandparents and Others Ministry
Imagine the retirement years, a time to anticipate a new way of life. The family that once filled your time with various schedules, work, and balancing school activities is replaced with new adventures. Those children that were once the focus of your life now have families of their own. Then one day retirement is changed forever...maybe it is a phone call, maybe a knock at your door. It may be the result of domestic abuse, substance abuse, the death of a parent/s, HIV/AIDS, neglect, incarceration, a call to serve in the military, or because some parents just walk away from their child/ren. Life immediately changes and the next generation is in need of your care. Through the grieving of your own child's loss, you now must pick up the pieces and begin to raise the next generation. This is a story of how one congregation has partnered with one of its members, Adrian Mary Charniak, an active member since March 1981, to create a new ministry that provides a safe space and is socially active on state and national levels fighting for the rights of grandparents raising grandchildren.
The ministry is an outgrowth of the Vision & Mission of Trinity Community Church in Berwyn (officially adopted in January 2008 after a multi-year visioning process offered by the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ). In April 2009, the members of Trinity formally recognized and established a new ministry under it's Board of Mission and Witness: the Gift of Hope, Grandparents & Others Raising America's Children. The Gift of Hope ministry takes its name from "Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network," a life-saving organization. The ministry's name honors Adrian Mary Charniak's son, Raymond Nosal, the father of her grandchild Joey, after "Gift of Hope" assisted the Charniak family in fulfilling Raymond's last wishes by providing life saving organs and tissue transplants to others.
Building on the gifts God has provided our church through its members, Trinity is empowering its members, social agencies and ecumenical partners to work on issues of grandparents rights. Grandparents attempting to raise their grandchildren face tremendous struggles and are oppressed by various societal structures. Legal obstacles are common for grandparents lacking legal custody rights: visitation rights are often not acknowledged, school/medical records are often denied, and legal representation is difficult to obtain and afford. Many grandparents raising grandchildren live on fixed incomes, and some are close to the poverty level. Second mortgages are often taken to pay for attorney fees to obtain legal rights for visitation, guardianship, etc. Grandparents also struggle financially, attempting to provide additional food, clothing, and housing for added family members. Medical, dental health care, and other out of pocket expenses are burdensome when faced with no legal rights, a fact that still remains an obstacle for many grandparents who are raising grandchildren. A grandparent receives $117/mo. for the first grandchild, $107/mo. for the second, and $10 less for each additional child, as compared to $500-$800 monthly financial support offered to foster parents. The system discriminates and is nonsupportive and takes advantage of good-hearted grandparents who choose to raise their grandchildren.
There is a stigma associated with how our society treats older adults, and often social structures do not recognize grandparents as being capable of caring for grandchildren. Official agencies, including abuse hotline responders, often ignore grandparents who report child abuse. Judges often will not listen, judging in favor of a biological parent who has a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse; and social workers are over burdened by case loads and often fall short. Many grandparents are told to "shut up" as they face untrue, negative accusations inaccurately reported by formal investigation agencies; and may need to relocate due to "no children welcome" housing requirements of many senior communities.
The Gift of Hope ministry attempts to empower grandparents through Christian fellowship to liberate oppressive social structures by helping grandparents and others by empowering them when facing the legal and custody issues associated with raising their grandchildren; providing emotional, physical and spiritual support needed to face the overwhelming demands of raising grandchildren and the generational differences; striving to break the isolation older adults experience the second time around with raising grandchildren; sharing the newest educational information on parenting skills including safe baby sleeping techniques; working with social systems and school districts to end oppressive practices against grandparents; working with federal/state lawmakers to broaden grandparent rights; explaining medical rights; interfacing with new technology; helping to obtain clothing and other needs for the children; raising funds to assist with gas and electric bills as well as public transportation needs; providing holiday meals and sourcing area food pantries; locating affordable apartments; and offering home furnishings (dressers, beds, etc). We strive to help grandparents imagine a new possibility knowing that God is still speaking.
Since it's inception in April 2009, the Gift of Hope ministry has assisted over 2,000 families with an average of two children each, although some grandparents (some are under 55 years of age) are raising as many as eight grandchildren . The group also supports great grandparents and others raising America's children. The church has become a second home to many of these families, made up of many ethnic backgrounds and cultures, providing a safe and hope-filled space offering encouragement, networking opportunities, and fun things to do with children. The church offers support groups for grandparents twice monthly...a place to share concerns, receive physical and spiritual support, as well as share laughs.
Each year about these group meetings offer assistance to an extremely diverse group of grandparents from low, middle, and upper income brackets. Grandparents and their children are invited to participate in all church activities: a swim party at the local YMCA; Grandparents Day worship and luncheon; and Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinners, and Christmas gifts for upwards of 100 children. Church members collect clothing for children and grandparents, toys, backpacks and school supplies. The church has become a place where grandparent voices can be heard as State Task Force meetings made up of local and state agency representatives are held at the church. The church has partnered with local Jewel Food Stores who donated upwards of 100 Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners (turkey and ham dinners each feeding eight people) in support of the church's mission.
The roots of the Gift of Hope ministry grew out of Adrian Mary Charniak's own experience and her dedication to putting her faith into action. Her work has inspired the church and others to follow her lead. Adrian, the Chair of Trinity's Board of Mission and Witness and the Director of the Gift of Hope ministry, has been a driving force at the state and national levels striving to give grandparents legal rights. She also volunteers at the Cook County Guardianship Assistance Desk For Minors in the State of Illinois assisting over 4,000 families annually including providing back-up plans for guardianship in the event that grandparents need assistance due to medical needs - and she facilitates a monthly support group for grandparents at both Trinity Community Church in Berwyn and the Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park. All because she is a "Babi" (Czech for Grandmother).
Important Contacts for Grandparents and Others Raising America's Children in the State of Illinois
Help is available in many forms although the entry point for services can often be confusing. The following are resources to help along the journey. If you are, or know of, a relative raising children, you are part of a growing population. In Illinois, 213,265 children under the age of 18 are living in a grandparent-headed home. 75,000 children under the age of 18 are living with other relatives. 101,317 grandparents are directly responsible for the care of their grandchildren. It can happen to anyone, any time, for any reason. Several agencies provide resources to help you or the child you are raising.
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) : http://www.state.il.us/dcfs : Child Abuse Hotline: 800-25-ABUSE, 800-252-2873, 800-358-5117 (TTY)
Report suspected child abuse and neglect. Receive extended family support program services, including private guardianship, medical cards and financial assistance. Ask questions about DCFS programs/services.
DCFS Advocacy Office for Children and Families : 800-232-3798
Questions, problems or concerns regarding child welfare issues, including Post Adoption and Subsidized Guardianship services.
State of Illinois, Department on Aging : http://www.state.il.us/aging : 421 East Capital Avenue., #100, Springfield,IL 62701-1789 : Senior HelpLine: 800-252-8966, 888-206-1327 (TTY)
Support groups, prescription drug assistance, referrals for counseling, financial & legal assistance, adult & child care, advocacy for school enrollment, special education and visitation. The Illinois Department on Aging does not discriminate in admission to programs or treatment of employment in compliance with appropriate State & Federal statutes. If you feel you have been discriminated against, call the Senior HelpLine.
Elder Abuse Hotline : 866-800-1409, 888-206-1327 (TTY)
To report suspected elder abuse/neglect
Illinois Department of Public Health : http://www.idph.state.il.us : 800-526-4372, 888-547-0466 (TTY) : Immunizations: 800-526-4372
Senior Services Area Agency on Aging, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services : http://www.cityofchicago.org/aging : 312-744-4016, 312-744-6777 (TTY)
Support groups, counseling, legal counseling, information and assistance, respite and short-term emergency assistance. 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. After hours and weekends use Chicago non-emergency number: 311
Illinois Department of Human Services : http://www.dhs.state.il.us : 800-843-6154, 800-447-6404 (TTY)
Financial assistance, medical card, child care, food stamps, information and referral, and Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Illinois State Board of Education : https://www.isbe.net : 866-262-6663
School enrollment and special education issues
State of Illinois Extended Family Support Program
State of Illinois Central Registry (SCR)/Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline : 800-25-ABUSE or 217-524-2606
Llame al Registro Central del Estado (SCR)/Linea Directa para Reportar Negligencia y Abuso de Ninos, 800-252-2873 or 217-524-2606.
For Cook County residents with general questions about the program contact Extended Family Support Program Director Debra Melin at 773-777-7112, ext. 7365 or the Assistant Coordinator America Camposat ext. 7363.
Para residentes del Condado de Cook con preguntas generales sobre el programa, por favor de comunicarse con la Asistente del Programa, America Campos, al numero 773-777-7112 ala Extension 7363.
The Extended Family Support Program is a statewide (Illinois) program that supports caregivers who are caring for related children outside the formal child welfare system. This intensive short-term program allows children to live with family members without becoming involved with the child welfare system and offers caregivers support and services when they unexpectedly assume responsibility for related children.
It is estimated that over 100,000 relatives in Illinois are provided care for related children without support from the formal child welfare system. Many of these caregivers are able to rely on family and community supports to provide care. Caregivers who contact the Extended Family Support Program are provided a variety of support and information in order to continue caring for the related children.
A family receives assistance from a caseworker for three months. The caseworker will assist the family in identifying the needs that must be met in order for the children to have a table living environment. The caseworker helps meet these needs by providing: 1. Assistance in obtaining guardianship through probate court and in applying for a public aid grant; 2. School advocacy; 3. Limited financial assistance per family for bedding, food, uniforms, and/or other appropriate services to stabilize the home; and, 4. Accessing community resources and services as needed per family.
Any relative caring for a related child who is not their own biological child and meets the following criteria is eligible for the Extended Family Support Program: 1. The child or children have been living with the relative caregiver 15 or more days and the caregiver is willing to continue to care for the child(ren); 2. The relative caregiver meets the Department of Children and Family Services definition of a "relative;" 3. The family requires assistance processing public aid and guardianship applications; 4. The child does not have protective issues, and does not have an open or pending case with DCFS; and 5. The relative caregiver is providing the majority of the care giving responsibilities.
Babi's Story: Adrian Mary Charniak, imagining and doing, creating a new Ministry
Adrian Mary Charniak has been an active member of Trinity Community Church since March 1981. She has served the church by singing in the choir, hosting countless church fundraisers and flea markets, participating in worship and intergenerational Christmas pageants, serving on various boards including the Board of Mission and Witness which she currently co-chairs, co-founding the "Red and Wild Ladies of Trinity" intergenerational group for women, and helping with funeral luncheons and refreshments.
Beyond the local church Adrian has volunteered and assisted the National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights as a Board Member for the State of Illinois; the Illinois Taskforce for Grandparent's Rights; the Grandparents Empowerment Group at Rush Hospital, Oak Park and Rush Medical Center, Chicago as Support Group Leader; the Help Desk with the Cook County Guardianship Assistance Desk For Minors in the State of Illinois; and by supporting her ethnic heritage by singing with the Czechoslovak Society of America "Half & Half Singers".
In June 1998 Adrian Mary Charniak's vision of being a grandmother, known as "Babi" in Czech, was forever changed. After seeing her grandson for the very first time, five minutes after his birth, she knew that she would be intimately involved in his life and likely his primary caregiver. Her grandson was born to parents that she loved, but did not understand. Both suffered from bipolar disorder and were substance abusers. Obtaining guardianship of her grandson became her primary focus - a road that was unpaved and uncharted for a retired dental office manager - and she soon found she had no legal rights.
The journey of raising another generation required tremendous dedication which has placed Adrian, as other grandparents, on an emotional as well as financial roller coaster. The first obstacle in Adrian's journey was achieving legal rights for her grandson to be raised in her household. Grandparents and other family members are often not notified when their grandchild/ren are placed in Foster Care. This results in children being placed for adoption and once the adoption has taken place, the children are lost to their biological families. After 112 court appearances, 87 which were unsuccessful, countless police reports, and spending over $65,000 in legal fees, Adrian's son received divorce papers that read - father has custody, child must reside with grandparents.
In September of 2003, Adrian attended a Grandparents group at the Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park and learned a frightening fact there were 6 million children between the ages of 1-12 living with a grandparent or being cared for by another family member. At the same time she learned about something called the "Grand-Rally" - a grandparents and other rally that would be taking place on the west lawn of the Nation's Capital building in October of 2003. At that moment Adrian looked at her mother and the group leader and announced "I am going to Washington." On October 15, 2003, the journey of fighting for Grandparents Rights took Adrian from Riverside, Illinois to the Grand-Rally in Washington, D.C. At the rally, she was introduced to Brigitte Castellano, associated with the National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights, as well as Senator Hillary Clinton, Congressman Danny Davis, and Congresswoman Judith Biggert - all who encouraged her endeavor. It was because of this rally that Adrian finally found peace and learned that she was not alone and not to blame for what was happening in her family. More than 2,000 grandparents attended this rally. Because of the Grand-Rally, doors that were once barred or hidden from view were finally opening for her family. Adrian vowed to herself and to God that she would assist anyone who would come to her for help and if she did not have the answer she would find one.
In 2004 Adrian and her grandson Joey met with Senator Richard Durbin and Senator Peter Fitzgerald, both from Illinois, who listened to her regarding grandparent issues and encouraged her to continue her work. In 2005 Adrian attended her second "Grand-Rally" in Washington,D.C. - this time meeting with Senator Richard Durbin and then Senator Barack Obama (never dreaming he would become President). Senator Obama discussed living with his TuTu (grandmother) and the impact she had on his life.
After volunteering at Rush Oak Park Hospital for three years running their Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group, Adrian believed that the Chicago's west suburban area was under served when it came to supporting grandparents. At about the same time, a newer member of Trinity Community Church told Adrian that she too was raising her grandson. Adrian approached the Pastors who supported her effort to address the Church Council with her desire for the church to begin a new ministry by opening its doors to grandparents which would continue and expand upon the work that God had placed before her. In April 2009 the Church Council of Trinity approved a new ministry, the Gift of Hope, Grandparents and Others Raising America's Children under the auspices of the Board of Mission and Witness.
The church would offer its resources to provide a supportive atmosphere for meeting with grandparents and others who were actively raising grandchildren. In addition to providing meeting space, the church would work with Adrian to offer educational programs, distribute food and clothes, create a networking resource with other agencies, and provide Christian fellowship. Imagine what is possible when we find that God is still speaking.
Adrian Mary Charniak has given up her retirement savings to have the legal rights and responsibility of raising her grandson - and she would do it all over again if need be. Adrian's late son, Raymond, presented their family with the gift of his son Joey. Adrian, her husband Ron, and the Body of Christ known as Trinity Community Church strive to provide hope for grandparents and others who are raising the next generation of young adults. Adrian, along with Trinity's church members, continue to give to those who are often oppressed and overlooked when faced with the daunting task of raising their grandchildren and fighting for legal rights associated with that task. Adrian, together with the other church members involved in this ministry, provides a voice in the wilderness - an open door for grandparents to learn, share, and grow. Adrian has been and continues to be a driving force, not only for grandparents but by empowering the local church to be a vocal and socially responsive voice for a population in need, in a new way which it had not been. It is our hope that Adrian can be recognized as a person of honor in the United Church of Christ, for she is indeed a person of honor at Trinity Community Church in Berwyn and for many grandparents throughout the Chicagoland area, within the State of Illinois, as well as nationally. Adrian is a persistent Still Speaking voice a leading force offering positive change, hard work, hope, and determination. Faith has empowered Adrian not only to have a voice, but to be a voice for other grandparents who remain voiceless. When asked what is the best thing about being a grandparent raising a grandchild she responded: "The hugs, the Thank You's, the I Love You's. How can you beat that?" Adrian has and continues to imagine what's possible.
Laws advocated by Adrian:
National: Fostering Connections Law: Passed 2008; Signed into law on October 2008 by President George W. Bush. Adrian Mary Charniak's work supported the initiative for the passage of this law mandating that Grandparents, Uncle and Aunts must be notified before a grandchild can be placed in Foster Care.
Illinois: Worked on the DeFacto Law in Illinois which provides a ruling that once a child resides in a loving home with need met for two or more years parents can not seek custody of the child unless a Grandparent can no longer care for the child or unless the parents can prove they are capable of caring for the child.
Awards Adrian has received:
2013: President Obama's Volunteer Service Award
2011: President Obama's Volunteer Service Award
2010: Volunteer of the Year, Rush Oak Park Hospital
2010: 5 Year Service Award, Rush Oak Park Hospital
2008: Silent Savior Award Grand Families Program of Chicago
2006: Sankofa Safe Child Initiative, Congressman Danny Davis, Sankofa Association
Events Adrian has attended:
Grand-Rally in Washington, D. C. in October 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011 (with 3 grandparents), and 2017 (1 member and 1 grandparent friend from Trinity and 7 other grandparents joined Adrian).
Speaking engagements Adrian attended/participated in:
United Nations Conference, Chicago, IL
White House Conference on Aging, Washington, D.C./Chicago
National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights, Washington, D.C.
Generations United, Washington, D.C.
Illinois Governors Conference On Aging, Chicago
Illinois Council on Aging/Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, Chicago, Springfield, LaGrange
Cook County Judges/Guardianship Desk for Minors, Chicago
National Press Club, Family Matters, Intergenerational Living, Washington, DC
ABC Nightly News, Intergenerational Living
Huff Post, Intergenerational Living
Operation Push, Chicago
Chicago Renewal Society, Chicago
U of I Chicago, Jane Adams School of Social Work, Chicago
Loyola University School of Social Work, Chicago
Kiwanis Club of Illinois, Chicago and Suburbs
Rotary Club of Illinois, Chicago and Suburbs
American Library Association Conference, Chicago
Illinois Library Association Conferences, Edwardsville/Rosemont
Grant Makers of America Conferences, Chicago/Atlanta
Congressman Daniel Lipinski's Health Fairs, Chicago Suburbs
Senior Fairs, Berwyn, Brookfield, Burbank, North Riverside, Forest Park, Oak Park, LaGrange, Schaumburg
School Districts, meeting with Social Workers, Chicago Suburbs
Humana Insurance of Illinois, Chicago and Suburbs
Rush Medical Center, Chicago
Rush Oak Park Hospital, Oak Park, Illinois
Pillars, Fundraiser, LaGrange
News articles related to Adrian and the Church Ministry:
"Grandparents Step In When Parents Can't Be Parents" by Kathleen Misovic in LaGrange Patch (2-2-11).
- "Grandparents Keep Families Afloat" by Julianne Hing in ColorLines: News for Action September 10, 2010, online at: http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/09/post_103.html
- "Grand Families Forms Empowerment Group in Hyde Park" by Daschell Phillips reprinted from the Hyde Park Herald, July 21, 2010 in Seniors Perspective and Issues, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference.
- "Group Offers Help for Grandparents Raising Children" by Laura Bollin in My Suburban Life, Serving Chicago's Western Suburbs February 8, 2010.
- "When Grandparenting Costs Much More Than a Grand" by Janice Hoppe in My Suburban Live, Westchester Suburban Life September 2008.
Web links related to Adrian's story:
National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights, online at: http://www.grandparentsforchildren.org/
State of Illinois Department on Aging, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program, online at: http://www.state.il.us/aging/1intergen/grg.htm