MECCA - For many grandparents and great-grandparents, helping to raise or even raising their grandchildren and great-grandchildren is becoming more and more common.
For reasons ranging from the parents both working to marital problems to financial woes, often grandparents and great-grandparents step up to help with the care of their young relatives.
For one local couple, that situation was made even more challenging with a great-grandchild battling a serious health condition.
Great-grandparents Sandee and Glenn Smith of Mecca with their great-grandson, A.J. Berendt, 9, attended a recent fundraiser event held at Maplewood High School. The three look over some of the Chinese auction basket items. The Smiths have been taking care of their great-grandson, A.J., for two years and also took care of another great-grandson, Matthew Berendt, 7, who died in December after battling leukemia.
Great-grandparents Glenn and Sandee Smith of Mecca have spent the past two year raising and taking care of their two great-grandsons, A.J. Berendt, 9, and Matthew Berendt, 7, who died in December after battling leukemia for two years.
Glenn Smith said the family court awarded them temporary custody of the two boys two years ago. The two are retired, and because of that, were able to spend the needed time with their two great-grandsons.
Glenn, a retired farmer, said if he were working, it would not have been as easy to have the needed time to take care of the two boys.
"Raising children for anyone can be difficult. With Matthew being sick, it made it more of a challenge,'' Sandee said.
Sandee said she spent a lot of time at the hospital as Matthew battled leukemia. Glenn would take the boys to school in Maplewood, where Matthew was in first grade and AJ is a third-grader. Glenn said he took care of A.J. for most of the time while Sandee spent more time with Matthew often away from home at the hospital.
Glenn said it is not as easy for people in their 60s and 70s as compared to when they were younger while raising their own children.
"This was not a decision we came to easily. We felt it would better for us to take care of the boys as opposed to foster care," he said.
"More grandparents step up to help out in situations regardless of the circumstances. It has become more of a necessity for many families. Everyone knows how expensive child care can be and what effect it has on a family's budget," he said.
Sandee said she remembers staying for long periods of time at the hospital when Matthew was receiving his treatments. She said she met many other families at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, including grandparents.
"It was like you are one big family. We saw so many families come and go from the hospital," Sandee said.
"We did live separate lives. I was away at the hospital with one brother and he was at home with the other. It was hard for all of us but if faced with this situation again we would do it," Sandee said.
While many refer to the Smiths as heroes, Sandee said Matthew was the hero to them as he was always very brave and fought for his life.
"He never complained or gave in. Even when he was in intensive care, he never gave in. He always told me he was good," she said.
Glenn, who said he has his own health problems with his heart, said he and his wife are grateful to both have the strength to handle the situation, especially Matthew's health.
"If Matthew hadn't been sick, I don't know how we would have done anything differently,'' Sandee said.
The Smiths said they are not sure how long they will continue to take care of AJ.
"One of the biggest fears was my health and our age. Sandee does so much and I didn't want her to have to do it all by herself,'' Glenn said.
Heidi Darocha, daughter of the Smiths, said her parents are to be admired, having not only helped their own children and grandchildren, but now helping to raise two great-grandchildren.
"Not many of us could say we could step up at this time in their life and take on two little boys, let alone one who is battling for his life. These two are wonderful not only in this situation but also in our local community," Darocha said.
The Smiths were among the many involved with a recent fundraiser with a dinner, 50-50 raffle, and Chinese auction at Maplewood High School with proceeds benefiting Make-A-Wish Foundation and Rainbow Children's Hospital in Cleveland. A small portion of the proceeds will also help with medical expenses for Matthew, while most of the costs have been taken care of.
"We received so much support and help from so many family and friends," Darocha said.
"We hope the money raised from the event will be able to help other children," Sandee said noting that Matthew received chemotherapy at Rainbow Children's Hospital where so many children receive help.
Darocha, coordinator of the fundraising events, said she was overwhelmed by the love and support from so many people.
Louann Easley and Connie Dorbansky, both of Howland who have worked with Sandee, volunteered at the event.
"We wanted to do what we can to help her and the family knowing what they were facing, Dorbansky said.
Tina Hansel, the Smith's neighbor, said one thing grandparents and great-grandparents bring to a situation is life of experience having raised their own children.
"That life experience is a valuable asset. They know the situation and have had experience in knowing what they are doing,'' she said.
Darocha said she questions whether she could have done what her parents did at their age and time in life.
''They faced the situation head on and were able to successfully make a difference in their great-grandchildren's lives,'' she said.
Hansel said so many grandparents are to be credited and admired for what they do to help.
"If we could see more people do what they did and step up. They just went above and beyond what a great-grandparent should be doing,'' she said. ''Their hearts are truly in the right place.''