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COVER STORY : One Woman's Mission: Help for Grandparents

July 04, 1993|LUCILLE RENWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

During her 2 1/2 years as a school nurse in South Los Angeles in the early 1980s, Lois Walters listened to hundreds of grandparents distraught over trying to care for their young grandchildren.

Each had different problems, but all agreed they needed information and moral support. So Walters decided to help.

In 1989, she created the Assn. of African-American Grandmothers. The next year, as a consultant with the Department of Health Services' child abuse prevention unit, Walters started a training program to instruct grandparents about the dos and don'ts of bringing up their young charges.

"There are enormous challenges that grandparents have to face now that they didn't have to deal with before and really aren't sure how to handle," said Walters, who is a mother of two but not a grandparent.

Walters' instructional program started as a 10-week pilot project that grew to a 21-week course with sessions every Saturday. Up to a dozen grandparents at a time met with Walters, physicians, psychologists and social workers. They learned about everything from prenatal care to cardiopulmonary resuscitation, from earthquake preparedness to navigating the government bureaucracy. They also shared their own experiences.

"The best thing is knowing that there are other people going through the same problems that you are--some more, some less," said Charlotte Martin of East 71st Street, who joined Walters' group in 1990.

By January, nearly 70 grandparents had graduated from the program. Several of them formed support groups as chapters of the national association. But the next month, Walters' consulting position was eliminated because of county budget shortfalls.

"I was thinking this program was going to be a permanent part of the (child abuse prevention) unit to give grandparents some support, and then it's cut short," said Walters, now a program specialist at the county Department of Health Services' TB Control Unit.

Although the weekly sessions have ceased, Walters' work hasn't. In the past five months she has been inundated by calls from social workers and grandparents and has counseled people over the phone from her Ladera Heights home.

She has also been looking for funding from private organizations to get the training program back on its feet. So far, the Liberty Hill Foundation of Santa Monica has donated $7,000 for supplies and a salary for a part-time coordinator, and Walters is hoping to resume the weekly sessions in September with donated office space.

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