BRADENTON -- When Nancy Darr and her husband adopted their grandsons in 1994, there were no local support groups to guide and help them find resources in the community.
It became even more difficult a year later, when her husband died, she said.
"I was left to raise the boys alone," Darr said.
A social worker suggested she start a support group for grandparents who, like Darr, were raising grandchildren. She then organized Grandparents as Parents.
Roughly 22 years later on Saturday, Grandparents as Parents had its monthly meeting and luncheon at the Hope Lutheran Church, 4635 26th St. W., Bradenton.
There is clearly a need for Grandparents as Parents.
In Florida, more than 287,753 children are living in grandparent-headed households. Another 86,152 children are living in households headed by other relatives, according to the Manatee Children's Services website. In Manatee County, more than 3,747 children are being raised by their grandparents.
About five years ago, Darr says she decided to partner with Manatee Children's
Services to improve the program.
"I was doing everything by myself," Darr said. "What I wanted to do was provide baby-sitting, a luncheon and more speakers."
Today, that is just what the program offers.
About 100 grandparents ate together inside the Fellowship Hall at Hope Lutheran Church while the children ate and played outside. Manatee High School football coach John Booth and members of his staff and football team helped serve the meal and watch the children.
Darr's grandsons are now 31 and 34 years old, respectively, but she still volunteers. She adopted them when her daughter couldn't care for them, so she relates to the many other grandparents who have assumed parenting roles all over again.
"It helps a lot of people, because we are able to get information to them," Darr said.
The speaker was Kim Ross, an adviser with Whole Child Manatee.
Ross briefly touched upon many services available, including free tax preparation, the downtown Bradenton farmers market now accepting electronic benefit transfer cards and free safety events including one Saturday on bike safety at Blake Medical Center and another at the Ellenton Premium Outlets.
Haven has spoken to the group many times over the years. This month, she left her program open to a lot more questions.
Some grandparents expressed frustration with case workers from the Safe Children Coalition.
"If that person is not doing what you need them to, I'd be asking for their supervisor," Ross suggested. "I would rock the boat."
One grandmother asked about getting her grandchildren residential status since they came to live with her from out of state five years ago. Ross told her residential status is acquired after six months and can be proven by school records.
Afterwards, Ross fielded more questions one on one.
The luncheons really are critical in helping to provide a learning environment, she told the Bradenton Herald.
"Information is one thing, but how do you know what to ask?" Ross said. "There's never going to be enough funds for the need. ... as a community we have to be creative."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.