7Everyday Hero Gail Engel helps grandparents raising their grandchildren full time

The Grand Family Coalition supports families

DENVER -- Imagine you are retired, living on a fixed income, and enjoying life in a seniors only community. Then all of a sudden you're forced to raise your grandchild full-time. 

"I received my grandson because my daughter has mental illness. I was alone, and isolated and I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to find help," said Gail Engel. 

Engel never dreamed she would be raising her grandson full time. Aside from the obvious financial burden, she had feelings of guilt. 

"Oh the guilt is tremendous. It's another layer. The guilt of 'It's my fault that my child failed. It's my fault that I'm in this situation,'" Engel said. 

There is also the guilt of not having the physical stamina to raise a young child. 

"With my grandson, I couldn't teach him how to ride a bike because I have two knee replacements. My husband and I have both had back surgery. I can't run. So, I couldn't teach him how to ride a bike. I can't take him on hikes in the mountains and do all those things that young adults can do. I am older and feel guilty because maybe I'm not giving him the life that he needs," Engel explained. 

So, Engel decided to take control of the situation. She took a 21-week family leadership training course and founded a group she calls the Grand Family Coalition. 

"Grand Family Coalition is a network of kin that support one another. Our goal is that anyone who comes into this situation has somebody to turn to to help them through it," Engel said. 

The nonprofit support group helps grandparents and grandchildren who are thrust together because of a family trauma. Engel quickly learned she was not alone. 

"There are 2.7 million grandparents in the U.S. raising their grandchildren. There are 48,000 children living in homes without parents in Colorado. And there are estimated to be about 3,000 grandparents in Larimer County raising their grandchildren full-time," Engel said. 

And many of them have found hope with the Grand Family Coalition. 

"Beyond words, beyond words. Gail is just wonderful. We talk about everything," said Sharon Andrews, a grandparent raising her grandchildren. 

"Just being able to talk to somebody because it's different. I mean, it's so different from raising your own kids. Gail is wonderful because she is one of us," said grandparent Carmen Thibodeu. 

Engel's group has been so successful, it now has more than 300 members just in Larimer County. 
And the grandchildren in the group have started their own support group within the group. They call it Minor Pulse. 

"It's a youth group for grandkids to speak their voice on how they feel. It's to help them feel like they're not alone. It helped us open up and feel confident talking to others about how we feel," said Hannah Byrd. 

"It helped me feel comfortable for who I was, where I lived, and who I lived with," said Taylor Douglas. 

The support group has helped the grandkids accept and appreciate their grandparents as their full time guardians. 

"My grandparents say: 'If you make it through us, you make it through life,'" Douglas said. 

"They've taught me good life lessons and they challenge me. They're your backbone," Byrd said. 

To learn more about the Grand Family Coalition go to www.grandfamilycoalition.org.

Mitch Jelniker anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30 to 7 a.m. He also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on 7NEWS. Follow Mitch on Facebook and Twitter. Nominate a 7Everyday Hero here.

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