Unforgiven: One Family’s Story


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“Separate Realities” of Parents and Children

 San Francisco-based psychologist Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., is the author of When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along (Harper Collins, 2008).  In a blog post for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Dr. Coleman recommends:

Honor the ‘separate realities’ nature of family life. Just because you made decisions with your child’s best interest in mind, doesn’t mean that they were experienced in the way that you intended. Don’t try to prove them wrong…  Take responsibility for whatever mistakes you have  made as a parent.  If there’s a kernel of truth to your child’s complaint, speak to the kernel of truth.  

Let’s face it: there are separate realities for parents and children in practically every family.  Even relatively minor, long-past separate realities have the power to destroy relationships when people don’t acknowledge them and make amends.   Take the case of Mrs. R., whose family saga is recounted here by her former neighbor.  It’s a worst-case scenario, to be sure. But sadly, don’t almost all of us know – or know of? – a Mrs. R.?

Unforgiven: One Family’s Story

             My former neighbor, Mrs. R., was a hard-working widow and a devoted mother.  Helen, her older child, was a brilliant student, but there was no question that charming, easygoing Sammy was the apple of his mother’s eye.  She didn’t think anybody was good enough for her son – not even Karen, the lovely young woman Sammy began dating when both were college freshmen.  Still, Mrs. R. was livid when she learned that Karen had broken up with him.

           Only a few months later, the young couple reunited.  But Mrs. R. insisted she would have nothing to do with her son until he came to his senses and dumped the no-good tramp who had wounded him!

            That was more than 25 years ago. Sammy and Karen are married parents of three – successful in their careers, active in their church and community.

             Unbelievably, Mrs. R. kept her word.  She never spoke to them again.

            At first, Sammy and Karen tried to make peace.  But after Mrs. R. refused invitations to their wedding, and their oldest child’s baptism and birthday parties, their overtures ceased.  They began bad-mouthing her as bitterly as she bad-mouthed them. 

             Their children were the only grandchildren Mrs. R. would ever have.  She’s in her late eighties now, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.  Helen takes care of her, and the relations between the two siblings are extremely strained.  Sammy’s family feels no obligation to the bitter woman who they know only as a living symbol of what it means to hold a grudge.

            Mrs. R.’s story taught me one of the most important lessons I’ll ever learn.  I remember vividly how her kids were everything to her, just like my recently-married daughter is to me! How could things go so terribly awry?

            Everyone who hears this story says: “A bump in the road of a college romance – that’s a ridiculous reason for a lifelong rift!”  And they’re right, of course.  But when you think about it:  what’s a GOOD reason for anger and blame that does not recede?

            I’ve promised myself I’ll be proactive so grudges never take root between my daughter, son-in-law and me.  I will offer and seek forgiveness immediately whenever hurt feelings or misunderstandings arise (as they inevitably do).  It’s a tragic waste to do otherwise! 

                                                                                     – Marta (48), New Jersey




Hearing a Grandmother’s Voice

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

A few years ago, when I was a teenager, I fell in love with a boy who just really wasn’t right for me in any way.

He was rude to my friends, but when they urged me to leave him, I didn’t listen.  My mom saw the way he treated me (which wasn’t very good), and kept questioning why I was still with him.  Her disapproval worried me, deep down, but I ignored it.

Then one day my grandmother called me and said:  “Baby, what’s going on with you these days?  I hear that things aren’t good.”  I knew, that moment, it was over.  After her phone call, I broke off all contact with him and felt more secure in my decision than I ever thought possible.

Whenever my grandparents step into a situation involving my siblings or me, I know it must be serious and I should take notice.  Let’s face it:  it’s not the same as when a parent steps in; parents will nag you about everything and anything, but grandparents just get to be sweet to you!  I know that if they are genuinely concerned about me, they must know what’s best and I should listen carefully to what they have to say.

Z.H. (22)

New York, New York

Times and Families Are Changing



modern grandparents with baby

There’s a radio ad for First American Bank that features a smart man explaining things to his grandma. While it’s radio, she begs you to imagine a simple old woman from Lithuania, whose primary concern is cooking.

Well, as Oldsmobile likes to say…today’s grandma is “not your grandma’s grandma.”

Fact in point, here are some eye-opening statistics from the 2011 MetLife Report on American Grandparents:

  • Just over one in ten grandparents (13%) provides care on a regular basis for at least one grandchild. Of those, 32% are babysitting/caregiving five or more days per week; 15% are raising at least one grandchild.
  • Among children younger than five whose mothers worked outside the home, 30% are cared for on a regular basis by a grandparent during their mother’s working hours (2005 US census figures).
  • The majority (62%) of grandparents have provided financial support or monetary gifts for grandchildren within the past five years. Of those grandparents who provide financial assistance.
  • The average amount given for all grandchildren over the past five years was $8,289 total. More than half gave up to $5,000.
  • Cash was the most common type of financial support, and helping with basic needs rose to the top with 43% of grandparents giving for clothing, 33% for general support, and 29% for education, such as pre-school through high school private schools, tutoring, college tuition, and graduate school.
  • Forty-three percent report they are providing more financial support due to the economic downturn (in 2008), and one-third (34%) are giving financial support to grandchildren even though they believe it is having a negative effect on their own financial security.

Even multigenerational living is making a comeback. According to a report by the Pew Research Center:

As of 2008, a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1% of the total U.S. population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation… This represents a significant trend reversal.  Starting right after World War II, the extended family household fell out of favor with the American public. In 1940, about a quarter of the population lived in one; by 1980, just 12% did.  

Pooling resources by moving in together after unemployment, lost stock-market gains, dwindling pensions and housing foreclosures has its win-win aspects, too.  The biggest winners are the grandchildren, according to Amy Goyer, senior vice president for outreach for Grandparents.com, writing for AARP.org:

 Children get some extra-special attention from loving adults… people who [grow] up with grandparents living in their homes seem to know them on a more personal level…. [G]randparents tend to be central characters in these grandkids’ life stories, as opposed to part of the peripheral supporting cast.  A sense of generational responsibility and the importance of transferring knowledge across the generations are well ingrained.  Family history and cultural heritage are constant companions to members of multigenerational households.


And, yet, independence continues to be a sign of strength and success in the US. Here are some thoughts on a new model of interdependence, and how it can be better for everyone involved, and more on interdependence and knowing when and how to ask for and receive help.

Grandparents Teaching Values: Turn Your Values into Action



By Jerry Witkovsky (adapted from his book, The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent Grandchild Connection)

Grandparents often ask me, “How will I be remembered?” They know that they can leave valuables, but things can be lost, discarded or no longer considered valuable. A legacy of values, however, can guide grandchildren in their daily life, school, friendship, family relationships. A value such as kindness becomes integrated into the being of the grandchild’s personality. It can be forever and it can be shared and taught to other members of the family and friends. It is part of the Teaching-and-Learning culture of the family, and the grandchild’s world outside of the family.

Interestingly, delving into Values often helps people to discover unexpected areas of commonality, notwithstanding what may appear to be striking differences of opinion.  Some families, for example, are very much split along political or ideological lines.  There’s nothing wrong with healthy disagreement and debate, of course – it’s all part of a vibrant Teaching-and-Learning culture.  But if, for example, social justice emerges as a strong core value for all or most family members, there are ways to share and live this that are decidedly nonpartisan.  Families across the political spectrum, or with different religious beliefs or practices, can volunteer together in a soup kitchen or community renewal project, and share articles or books that inspire them.

 Shared Interests vs Values

It may be tempting, initially, to try and define your family ethos by zeroing in on shared interests, or things that everyone likes to do together for fun. And, admittedly, focusing on the fun things first can provide an opening for the deeper values conversation. For example, a family where many members enjoy swimming may find that they share an affinity for environmental issues; or a family that enjoys playing chess may be interested in strategy and how that informs politics and democracy. Families who have fun cooking, at a minimum may boast better treats at their meetings, but may also find an underlying concern for food equity or supporting locally owned businesses.

But interests, hobbies and activities, for a host of reasons, may wax and wane through the years.  Core values, however, tend to endure – and they are frequently the foundation for our lasting passions and enthusiasms.  A family with a core value of “outdoor adventures and fitness,” for example, may relish taking ski trips together each winter.  But what happens during years when money is tight, or when a good portion of the family’s members are either too old or too young to participate?  Everyone can still have fun together, and fulfill the very same core value, by going (or watching!) sledding or ice-skating in a local park.

By exploring and coming to terms with our family’s areas of commonality and separateness, we teach the youngest generation how people of different beliefs respect each other, value each other’s contributions, and manage to get along in the world.

Values in Action: Contribution & Generosity

My family members and I are very conscious that we are privileged to be able to share the things we do.  This awareness is part of our shared Family Vision that values “bettering the lives of others.”  Each of us prioritizes volunteerism in our various communities, and this has emerged as a powerful topic of Teaching-and-Learning whenever we get together.  Ellen, my daughter, currently serves as president of her synagogue, an activity to which she devotes a great deal of time, effort and textual study.  We have all benefited from her teaching us about this major undertaking; she benefits from our questions and insights.

Even the younger grandkids understand that giving back is a central component of how we see our family.  From a very early age, they participated with their parents in community clean-ups and the like, and have learned to set aside a portion of their money for charity.

Rebecca’s Story: The Value of Adventure in Action

Values discussions may feel lofty, but the application of the spirit of the value can fit into a family’s everyday lexicon. When Rebecca introduced the conversation around values with her intermediate family, both adventure and multiculturalism rose to the top as important.

At first Rebecca was discouraged; thinking the only way to realize this value was to have lots of money to travel internationally. Instead, she broke it into baby steps, and she and her family came up with a fun way to try new restaurants, new foods, and to learn about new cultures.

First, they agreed that every time they went out to eat as a family, they would try a new restaurant. Second, they made picking the restaurant a lesson in geography. A la “pin the tail on the donkey” each family member would take a turn wearing the blindfold and be given a piece of tape to post on the big, laminated map that hung on the wall. Take away any markers that ended up in the middle of an ocean, and the resulting countries would give them choices as to where to eat. As a result they have tried “fast food” from Pakistan, traditional dishes from Sri Lanka, and even met the Finance Minister of Kyrgyzstan who happened to be visiting and dining at the same restaurant on one of their outings.

Leave Your Campsite Better than you Found it.

I’m not saying that this is an easy, clean, one-time process. But I do say always leave your campsite better than you found it; leave your school better than you found it, and leave your neighborhood and community better than you found it.

It is within your power to leave your family with greater meaning, and the world a better place, because your family was in it. The discussion around values is a step to making that happen.


Bookends Grandparents


By Matej Silecky

I have been working on a project that, it is safe to say, would not exist without the lifelong influence of all of my grandparents. The project, “Baba Babee Skazala” translates from Ukrainian to English as “Grandmother told Grandmother.”

Basically, it consists of:

  1. oral history interviews of American-immigrant post-World War II Ukrainian Displaced Persons;
  2. a documentary film about their experiences as refugees and immigrants;
  3. a related digital media/curated exhibit that will support the of artifacts from these individuals and the DP camps.

Reading that, many would assume that my ethnic heritage is Ukrainian, but this is only half true. Let me explain.

When I was born, all four of my grandparents were alive. My father’s parents were both Ukrainian, immigrating to the US after fleeing Ukraine during World War II, as other family members were murdered or disappeared, living as refugees in Displaced Person camps, and finally making their way by boat to America. They were Ukrainian Catholic, and raised their six children in a tightly-knit Ukrainian community whose organizations were designed to insure the continuance of Ukrainian language and culture.

My mother’s parents had English and Native American ancestry traced back to living in the United States before the Revolutionary War. They were Methodist, spoke only English, and had one child – my mother. My grandfather was a world War II veteran, but his experiences during the war were completely different than those of my paternal grandparents.

Viewed through society’s usual ways of categorizing people, my two sets of grandparents were polar opposites. They were the opposing bookends on opposite ends of a shelf, with pages of disparate history and experiences insurmountably between them. Or were they?

By the time I graduated from high school, only my mother’s father and my father’s mother (say that three times fast 🙂 ) were with me to attend my high school graduation.

When I graduated from UC Berkeley, my Babcia was my only living grandparent. Sadly, my Grandfather suddenly passed away just a couple of weeks after I started my freshman year at Berkeley. He lived right around the corner from me most of my childhood, and was very much a part of my everyday life. It was pretty traumatic to move across the country and immediately lose that connection to home. This loss influenced my perspective on the importance of family history.

In a blog post on my website for Baba Babee Skazala, I referred to those two, my Grandpa and Babcia, as the “bookends” for the evolution of the project during college. As events unfolded in Ukraine in the coming years, “Baba Babee Skazala” developed from an idea of a few family interviews to a broader concept of preserving stories and memories of a group for whom this has not been done in a cohesive way and creating a documentary film that would make their compelling stories accessible to a broader audience than those who might do research in library archives.

By college graduation, a project proposal was written and I was in search of funding sources. Babcia was with me at graduation, has helped organize interviews and (spoiler alert) agreed to be one of the interviewees.

How did these individuals from opposite sides of the world, with vastly different upbringings and viewpoints, influence this project, and more importantly, my life perspective? At its core, the answer is that they chose to connect across all those differences. Rather than viewing themselves as the always-separated bookends on opposite ends of a shelf, they looked to the function of a bookend: the function of a pair of bookends is to support what is between them, to buttress those items and keep them from falling.

Without a pair, something supporting both ends, the items fall.

In their own ways, each of my grandparents chose to reach beyond their differences every day to support me and surround me with love. They adjusted their own holiday plans, attending different religious celebrations and sharing new traditions, so the whole family could be together. They traveled with us and shared time helping my parents when work overwhelmed them. They adjusted their own plans to transport me to and from the myriad locations required by my figure skating training. They shared meals and recipes, with varying degrees of success. Even when things did not go smoothly and they disagreed, they kept moving forward and worked to make it better next time.

Sometimes, the things they did were just crazy, in retrospect. One Christmas season shortly after my maternal grandmother died, my parents did not want to leave my Grandpa or Babcia alone for the holidays. However, my Babcia lived in Florida and my Grandpa lived near us in New Jersey.

We also had a family tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree, but that surely wouldn’t work if we were in Florida. Knowing that my Babcia loved her winter Christmases even though she was in Florida, we went to cut a tree. Then – this is the crazy part – my grandpa DROVE WITH THE TREE to Florida while we flew so that we could all celebrate together! A huge surprise for Babcia and great fun for all!

They always went above and beyond to love and support me. Part of that was always looking for ways to connect with each other across differences. They did not have to do that, but in doing so they taught me that it is my decision – my choice – whether to focus on differences or whether to look beyond those differences, focus on what we all share as humans, and choose to connect.

With “Baba Babee Skazala”, I am choosing to connect with people of a different generation with different life experiences than mine, and it is hugely rewarding to share time with them and record their stories. But, it never would have happened if my grandparents had not chosen to connect across their differences – connecting to support and buttress my efforts from childhood to now.


Every Life, A Lesson



Jill Filipovic Headshot

Jill Filipovic, Writer. Lawyer. Author of the The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.  She also contributed a letter on “what I learned from my grandparents” to The Grandest Love.

Thanks to Vivien Orbach-Smith, Editor of The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, for sharing this kudos on The Grandest Love Facebook Page:

Congratulations to Jill Filipovic, one of the contributors to The Grandest Love, upon the release today of her first book, The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. In this excerpt from her book in The New York Times, Jill looks at the changing lives of women through the prism of her own family – beginning with her grandmother’s difficult road.

Here is Jill’s  Filipovic’s letter from the book, written at age 30:

My grandfather beat my grandmother. I don’t know how many times – at least once, probably more.  There are police photos, but I’ve never seen them.  After they divorced, my grandma was left raising five kids on her own on Chicago’s South Side.  She was a divorced single mom in the 1950s with no skill set, no family support, and no money.  She worked three jobs — crossing guard, waitress, whatever paid – while my grandfather refused to pay child support.  He went to jail for that, I think.  I don’t know how many times, but at least once.

My grandfather also called me Jilly-bean, built me a backyard fort, married a wonderful single mother who I knew as one of my three grandmas, and was an involved father and grandfather to his second family.  I adored him.

When he died, it was quick and painless – fine one day, gone the next.  An entire busload of his friends came to the wake.  Everyone remembered how he loved poker, how he loved to bake in the sun.  Two young Marines folded a flag over his coffin at his Catholic funeral.  His children and grandchildren spoke; we all cried.

My grandma died after a decade-long descent into dementia, a shell of her former self. She didn’t remember taking me to pick Bachelor’s Buttons from her garden, teaching me how to make necklaces out of clover, singing the songs she wrote about mama cats and their kittens to my sister and me.  There was no funeral.  We scattered her ashes across the Shenandoah Valley.

There are lessons in how they both lived – the importance of resilience, the necessity of self-reliance, the truth of real and transformative change.  There are ripples they both left – generations of steely women, families that boomerang between enmity and forgiveness.

The lessons in how they died are less satisfying.  In the end, a life of struggle undertaken by a woman who deserved better in every way – a life without security or money or physical safety, a life where work and misery were rewarded with flickers of light and beautiful moments – still ended unfairly.  Ended with those moments erased from her memory.  Ended with so much less than she deserved.

Brooklyn, New York

Dan Chamberlin on Jerry Witkovsky Day


Dan Chamberlin, Co-Chair of the Special Education Department and School Champion for the Grandparent program at Deerfield High School, joined Jerry Witkovsky, along with family and friends, when Mayor Rosenthal proclaimed “Jerry Witkovsky Day in the Village of Deerfield” last month. (See the Facebook Live Video of the event here.)

Dan’s words:

So, Jerry, congratulations. You are my Carpe Diem

I work with Jerry at Deerfield High School. It’s been 3 years, but it’s felt a little bit longer, just because, not in a bad way, but because you are so endearing.

You have a passion for starting a tradition that is through this kindness and generosity that you carry in your eyes and your soul.  It warms my heart every time you come into my office.

It‘s always “how can we do this better, Dan?” And he’s always pushing, in a good way. You have touched me as an educator and it’s only been three years. I really think what you want to give to other people, other grandparents and grandchildren is so endearing and special that I think it’s only fitting that we have a day in Deerfield named after you, for grandparents day, Grandtimes, grandparent programs and everything you are even bringing into the middle school.

You are my carpe diem. You do seize the day and say we are going to make it and keep on going.

Thank you for your time that you give to Deerfield High School and the Village of Deerfield.



Deerfield Mayor Announces Jerry Witkovsky Day March 20



March 20 will be been named Jerry Witkovsky Day in the Village of Deerfield, to honor the long time Grandparenting Activist’s 89th birthday.
Please join Mayor Rosenthal at Deerfield Village Hall, 850 Waukegan Road, on March 20 at 7:30 p.m for the ceremony.
Read more about the honor and Jerry in the Chicago Tribune/Deerfield Review.

Jerry Witkovsky is an amazing Deerfield resident who has brought thousands of grandparents and grandchildren closer together and enriched their lives through his tireless passion behind his Grandparent Connection School Program.


Lifelong Chicagoan Jerry Witkovsky (MSW, University of Illinois) has been a beloved mentor to thousands of individuals and generations of families, thanks to 47 years of professional leadership – 18 of them, as General Director – of Chicago’s Jewish Community Centers.


In 1995, Jerry was named one of the city’s “Most Effective Nonprofit CEOs” by Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine.


Since retiring in 1997, Jerry has focused his considerable energies on grandparenting – helping multigenerational families work (and play) together to create a rich family life.

At 88, Jerry is a force of nature. His wife’s passing from cancer in 2003 was very difficult. But, he realized he could wallow or could keep on living. He has since authored a book, The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, recognized in Grand Magazine’s 2016 list of 13 Best Books for New Grandparents.

Jerry’s joyful commitment to his six grandchildren (ages 14-34) and to their parents, and his passionate belief in the transformative power of becoming a “Teaching-and-Learning” family, is at the heart of his book and the Grandparent Connection School Kit which he produced in 2016.


He has spearheaded annual orientation programs for grandparents in a growing roster of Chicago public and private high schools, designed to keep grandparents engaged with their grandchildren as they become adolescents, teens and young adults.  Schools with Grandparent Programs in Deerfield include Deerfield High School (300 grandparents attended the November Grandparents Day for Seniors!) and Shepard and Caruso Middle Schools.


Jerry now has launched an evaluation process to learn from the current programs and to see how the program could be built into a business model and scaled to set up Grandparent Connection school programs across the country. He continues as a tireless advocate for the power of grandparents to transform families and communities and to help pass values from generation to generation.


Please learn more on Jerry’s active engagement Online.

Website:         http://www.grandparentsunleashed.com/

Facebook:       https://www.facebook.com/GrandparentGrandchildConnection/

Twitter:            https://twitter.com/TheGrandestLove

YouTube:        https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHGq2c-BkROzz2SYAm74CLg

A Grandparent Connection Theory of Change: Transforming Relationships and Community


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Jerry Witkovsky with Grandson

The 4th Generation of Witkovsky’s–a new great grandson

Grandparents have a transformative effect on their family when they teach their skills, manifest their creativity and give voice to their passions.

I set up my first Grandparent Connection School Program at Deerfield High School in 2009. The Deerfield High School grandparent program is still going strong. Over 300 grandparents attended the star event for senior year students: The annual Grandparents Day that took place the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Grandparents (or other special guests) shadowed their grandchild—attended their classes, ate lunch together, experienced their world.

“It’s beyond wonderful,” said one grandmother who was there to be with her grandson.

This connection at one of the critical stages of development goes beyond the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Grandchildren are becoming young adults. Grandparents are the presence of all the adults that precede the grandchild. From distant relatives to the teen’s parents, the grandparent brings knowledge, wisdom and hope to their grandchild.

Teenagers bring different knowledge and wisdom, frequently with anxiety about the present and trepidation for the future. Amazing things happen when these two get together and share stories of their life experience with one another.

The Power of Schools to Strengthen Families

Connecting with school administrators or counselors is a way for grandparents to understand what their grandchild might need at this age intellectually, socially, and emotionally.  In fact, at a gathering of grandparents of freshman earlier in the academic year, questions were less about what students were reading in English class. They were more about if and how their freshman grandchild was making friends, or how students felt about the pressure of transitioning to high school. A panel of sophomore students talked about their experience of a more “holistic” approach to school, being involved with all aspects of school and not just academics: Participating in sports and clubs is a way to make friends; connecting with older students in the peer tutoring program is an avenue to focus on academics and get perspective on high school.

The school connection and yearning for understanding didn’t end there. “How can we help our grandkids? What are they into these days?” asked one grandparent. The initial response was expected, “visit the school website. Read what your grandchild is reading in English class and ask questions about it, attend their events.” But another answer was more unexpected: “Hide your prescription medicines and dispose of them if you are no longer taking them.” Why? Because prescription drug abuse is a national epidemic. National Institutes for Drug Abuse report that in 2014 1,725 teens started prescription drug abuse every day of that year.

Grandparents must know what is going on to be able to be connected and make a difference in their grandchildren’s lives. This difference can be made not only in the relationship to the grandchild but to the school and the community as well. Schools benefit from volunteers in many aspects of school function, including speakers for career days, event and planning committees, tutoring and more. Community residents who are informed and invested in the school’s success vote on bond issues or raise funds for school projects.

Grandparent programs in schools, both secular and religious, add value, and they are catching on: Over the past seven years, the program in Deerfield has moved into a middle school, with plans to add more schools in 2017; programs are established in two Jewish high schools in the Chicagoland area, plus a number of religious schools in Chicago and beyond.

But, the question remains—what are other case studies of success at schools throughout the US? How can we show that when grandparents enter their grandchild’s school world, it can have a positive, lasting impact across the family and community? My theory is that it brings families closer together around shared values; improves mental health for grandparents and grandchildren; provides community support for schools and encourages positive implicit association with aging.

Theory of Change to evaluate the power of establishing Grandparent Connection Programs in secular and religious schools.

When grandparents of teens successfully connect with their grandchildren’s schools, they will become better informed about their world. When grandparents better understand what their grandchildren are learning at school, including not only subject matter but also the emotional, intellectual and social skills/development that their grandchild experiences as they grow toward young adulthood, they can better engage in meaningful discussions and connections.

Both grandparents and grandchildren will deepen their knowledge of one another’s life stories and values, and grandparents will contribute their compassion, wisdom and love through the various transition points of their grandchildren’s young lives. Additionally, grandchildren and their parents gain positive implicit associations with aging and older adults.

Simultaneously, host schools will gain additional support in the form of enthusiastic volunteers, deeper involvement from school age families and positive influence on the broader community via grandparents’ social networks.

For Religious school connection there is an opportunity to engage spiritually and foster conversations at home around religious or cultural issues. It can create a safe space to share personal stories of religious identity, at times when it might have been difficult or even dangerous to practice their faith. Grandparents involved in religious school learning may find an entrée to sharing values such as kindness or generosity, or enjoy passing on family traditions to grandchildren.

Long term, family units will be enriched, contributing profound and enduring impact on individuals, families and communities.

What grandparent school programs are in your community?

Last year I created a Grandparent Connection School Kit to share what I have learned from my own experience and provide a step-by-step guide for grandparents to set up Grandparent Connection programs in their grandchild’s schools. In the coming year, I am embarking on a research and evaluation project to see what works, best practices, and to create a model to expand the program across the country.

What do you think? Are we on to something? Do you have examples of successful school grandparent programs in your community? We’d love to hear from you! Please share–even programs that did not succeed are good to know about, for informing success for the future.

Please contact me at jwitkovsky (at) att.net.


A long-time social work professional, grandparenting activist, and passionate Grandpa, author Jerry Witkovsky offers fresh approaches to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world, to leave values, not just valuables, and create a living legacy. http://www.grandparentsunleashed.com

Activism, Inspired by a Grandmother


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(Excerpted from The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection.)

About a dozen years ago – when I was a middle-school student, like those I currently teach – my grandmother began sharing with me the details of her own teenage years.

During the Holocaust, she was one of nearly 30,000 “Partisans” – Jewish and Russian fighters who resisted the Nazis, banding together in the Polish forests.  As Grandma Sonia opened up, so did my whole world.  I can hardly say that she had a “normal” youth, but that’s what it was until 1939, when the Soviets occupied her Polish village, Luboml.   In 1941, the Germans invaded and established a highly restrictive ghetto for the Jews, and the true nightmare began.

Sonia escaped into the surrounding forest with her parents and uncle in 1942.  After enduring a horrendous winter on their own as fugitives, they managed to join with the Soviet Partisans.  It was then that Sonia assumed the responsibilities of caring for wounded soldiers, guarding the camp at night, and using hand-grenades on missions to sabotage Nazi trains.

Despite our lives having been so different on the surface, I know that Sonia felt many of the same things I have felt, as a young woman going out into the world:  growing out of girlhood shyness, leaving a protected family cocoon, experiencing the first stirrings of romance.

Today, I find myself struggling to understand her frame of mind at two distinct life-junctures: that of the courageous teenager who fought for survival, and that of the 87-year-old woman who has come so far and is surrounded by people who love and admire her – yet who at times feels utterly alone and empty, as one of so few survivors.

Grandma bravely wrote and published a memoir several years ago, titled Here, There Are No Sarahs.  There’s a story in it I’ve known since childhood, and it always stuck with me.  During the first, bitter-cold winter that her family hid in the Polish forest, they were extremely depressed – huddled together for warmth and hardly speaking, knowing they were hunted and their lives were in danger.  A Ukrainian peasant named Tichon came upon them.  He could have abandoned them or even turned them over to the Nazis.

Each person has the choice to make a difference.

Instead, when he saw 16-year-old Sonia, he started to cry.  “You older people have lived already,” he wept, “but this child hasn’t had the chance to live yet.”  Tichon became instrumental in the survival of Sonia and her family, bringing them desperately needed food, information, and hope.  My grandmother’s grateful recounting of this humble man’s heroic acts taught me that each of us has the power to stand up against evil and injustice, by helping those in need.

I fight for human rights and justice because my grandmother fought for her life.

As I’ve grown into adulthood, the more I have learned about Sonia’s unexpected role as a resistance fighter, the more I feel the mandate to carry on her spirit.  Clearly, she was fighting for her life, and I fight for justice and human rights because I have the luxury to do so.  Still, I believe that we are guided by the same truths, encapsulated in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”   Sonia’s story was part of what inspired me to my current work as a teacher in a public school in a seriously disadvantaged neighborhood.

At the same age as Sonia was in the forest, I organized a panel at my high school to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur.  A Sudanese refugee, then living the Bay Area, came to bear witness.  Mr. Ibrahim spoke of his village and how he was among a handful of survivors out of 200 friends and family members.  In a voice shaking with despair, frustration, and urgency, he begged us to do something.  Watching the tears stream down his face, I felt an intense connection to this man, as if his family and mine had the same story.   That was the moment I realized that human suffering cannot be compared – it is simply shared.

We live in a world where injustice and bigotry, persecution and genocide, have still not been conquered. Sometimes this feels overwhelming.  But I know I will always find strength and inspiration to keep doing my small part, when I think of my grandmother – the strongest woman I know.

EVA ORBUCH (age 23 when the letter was written)
San Jose, California