For those of us lucky enough to have or have had our grandparent in our lives, we have wonderful stories and memories to share with anyone who will listen.

I was blessed and lucky enough to have had many years with both sets of my grandparents. Since their passing, I do not think there has been a day I have not mentioned or thought of them. They played a formative role in making the person I am today. It is impossible for anyone to replicate what they taught and instilled in me. My time with them was a gift to be appreciated but for approximately 195,000 children in Pennsylvania grandparents are the sole caregiver.

Over 90,000 grandparents in Pennsylvania are currently raising their grandchildren. The reasons for this vary from case to case but it is clear that drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence or mental illness all factor into the majority of these situations.

When a grandparent is faced with the any of these scenarios, they are not always as well informed or prepared to make the initial choice which determines the path they will be taking. If the Office of Youth and Family Services is involved, they need to decide if they want to become kinship foster parents.

If they are in custody court, they must commit on the spot, sometimes without legal representation. Sometimes other factors in life lead them to simply take their grandchildren because family takes care of family. None of these scenarios are uncommon, no two cases are the same, and families are faced with some very difficult challenges.

As I have mentioned in a previous column, the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging has a caregiver support program. If you are 55 or older and are raising your grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or some other kinship relation, you may qualify for this program and there is help and information available to you.

If your story is like what I have just described, and you meet the qualifications for the program, you can be reimbursed for many of the expenses associated with caring for your loved one. While no program is perfect, this one is helpful and does make a difference for those struggling to get by.

Parents a Second Time (PAST) is our grandparents raising grandchildren support group. The group is participant-driven and hosts two meetings per month covering topics the group has inquired about.

Presentations on Custody and Dependency Court, Individual Education Plans (IEP), school enrollment, Medicaid, childcare and many other topics are held at the Throop Civic Center.

A second meeting is held at the Creative and Performing Arts Academy of NEPA. Here, the children and young adults participate in program while the caregivers discuss upcoming topics, process issues and offer each other support. Many strong bonds and friendships have been made at this group.

The group fundraises to help with costs associated with extracurricular activities the grandparents face with limited assets and income. The group also has seasonal events, including tickets to a Railriders Game, a trip on the Trolley Excursion and recreational events, to provide respite support to the participants.

Like many of our programs, it is impossible to cover all the resources available in one column. It is important for any older adult caring for a child that there is help and resources out there for you. Call 1-866-KIN-2111 to connect to a social service professional

who can help you navigate this complicated system. The KinnConnector is a valuable tool, and you should not hesitate to utilize it.

Your local Area Agency on Aging

is always one place for you to call for assistance, guidance, or programs. We are here for you and your family when they need us.

Jason Kavulich is the director of Lackawanna County’s Area Agency on Aging. For more information on services available call 570-963-6740.