Aug. 11, 2009
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA — When he was just 18 years old, Warrick Dunn’s mother, a Baton Rouge, La., police officer, was killed, leaving his grandmother to support him and his siblings.
Dunn’s grandmother, Willie Wheeler, was there to support him again on Tuesday as he spoke to a group of grandparents raising grandchildren at a monthly meeting for Georgia State University’s Project Healthy Grandparents.
“I understand your struggle, and we all have to have a supporting cast behind us,” said Dunn, former Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back and recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. “And this group is an example.”
Grandparents caring for their grandchildren face particular challenges when they are called upon to help raise their grandchildren, from financial resource issues — a particular concern during the recession — to emotional needs.
Project Healthy Grandparents, a program of the College of Health and Human Sciences, helps to fill these needs. The project provides social work and health services, support groups and parenting education classes, legal assistance referrals and access to community resources.
Since 1995, the program of the College of Health and Human Sciences has helped more than 665 families, including more than 1,520 children.
For Mary Jane Roussaw, the program has been an invaluable resource not only in directing her to social services and other resources, but has also provided camaraderie with other grandparents in her situation.
“We might have different situations and different backgrounds, but we’re all going through the same thing, and we’re trying to do our best,” said Roussaw, who is caring for three grandchildren, ages 11, 8 and 4. “It’s been helpful to interact and get information from other grandparents. We tell others about what we know, and help support each other.”
Dunn’s loss as an adult hit him hard, especially since he felt a responsibility himself to support his younger siblings. And in the end, support not just from Wheeler, but also other mentors in his life, helped him to become an NFL athlete.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have people in my life, to help keep me on track,” he said.
Dunn also had advice for the teenage grandchildren who were also in the room.
“Academics are important. You all have an opportunity to succeed,” he said. “You might not be at the best schools, but you can use your opportunities there to excel.”For more information about Project Healthy Grandparents, visit www.gsu.edu/phg.