More than 5,150 grandparents in Westchester are raising grandchildren. Many live below the poverty level, and a disproportionate number are women of color. But these caregivers are not awarded social service benefits comparable to those given to foster-care parents, even though studies have shown that children in kinship care often have better outcomes than those remaining in foster care. With a grant from the Dominican Sisters of Hope Empowerment Fund, the GrandPower Advocacy Project is working to secure changes in the benefits and services available to kinship caregivers.
The Empowerment Fund was established in 2014 with a $7.2 million gift from the Hope congregation to the Westchester Community Foundation (WCF). Through sound investment, over eight years the fund has grown to $11.2 million. More than $1 million has been distributed in grants to social justice organizations.
With input from our sisters, the Empowerment Fund was designed to support programs that address poverty and injustice in a systemic way. Recent grants have funded:
- Advocacy to benefit “kinship caregivers” including grandparents raising children who would otherwise be in foster care
- Legal counseling and representation for low-wage workers who are the victims of workplace abuse
- Leadership training for parents in the Ossining school district
- Civic engagement lessons and advocacy experience to high school students
- Advocacy for the release of elderly prisoners
“The legacy of the Dominican Sisters of Hope goes far beyond these grants,” said Laura Rossi, Westchester Community Foundation’s Executive Director. “You widened our lens and shifted the way we work with our Advisory Board in decision-making,” she continued. “You taught us to emphasize the voice and wisdom of the people most impacted by the issues themselves.”
The grant to fund GrandPower Advocacy Project is a case in point. As Carolyn Fluckinger, Director of the Family Service Society of Yonkers’ Kinship Support Program explained, “Being involved in the GrandPower Advocacy Project teaches the grandparents that they can do more than they ever thought possible. It helps build their confidence, the way they look at themselves,” she said, noting the grandparents have become a political force in Albany. “They realize they can have an impact. When they speak, people listen to them.”
The photo and caption above appeared in the November 2021 WCF newsletter. WCF also highlighted The Dominican Sisters of Hope Empowerment Fund in their July 2022 newsletter. You can read the article here. In it, the DSH Leadership Team described the Fund as a reflection of the congregation’s faith and values. “Beyond helping individuals, it’s equally important to confront the deeper issues and structures that allow poverty and injustice to continue,” they said. “We can only do this in solidarity with the people facing these challenges.”