Grandparents raising grandkids find refuge at Sankofa House

July 19, 2012 (CHICAGO)

At 67 years old, Charlene Coleman, a great grandmother, never imagined she would be parenting a 5-year-old.

"Well the father was in a lot of trouble, so was the mother and her grandmother the other grandmother was not up to par, so I ended up with her," she said.

It's a situation that presents its share of challenges, but is one that neither regrets.

"It's like one of a kind, it's great," said Diamond Coleman, 5-years-old granddaughter.

There are no complaints from grandmother Jeanette Thompson either. She's raising two teenagers.

"The little boy, I have had him ever since he was four years old, now he is 15 and the girl I have had her about five years so now she is 16," Thompson.

Raising grandchildren is not the only thing these women have in common. They also had inadequate housing and found refuge at Sankofa House in the North Lawndale neighborhood. The 58-unit building offers affordable housing specifically to grandparents raising grandchildren and to young adults who have aged out of Department of Children and Family Services care. The project was a personal mission for former social worker Annetta Wilson, the founder and executive director of Sankofa Safe Child Initiative.

"Often times if families don't have beds where the kids can sleep in if they don't have adequate resources of feeding them clothing them that was a reason to take them away and some social workers could have said that was neglect," said Wilson. "Forty percent of children that were coming in to DCFS came in as a really because of poverty issue not because of abuse. I don't want kids to be in an abusive situation but I would rather for them stay at home."

In addition to larger units, a secure front desk and supportive services, residents say they also value the camaraderie of neighbors who share their unique family structure.

"I think it's kinda fun cause we can relate on some things and I think I have more in common with most of them," said Brianna Baker, 16.

ABC7 is told there is always an extensive waiting list for residency at Sankofa House. Annetta Wilson now has plans to construct two similar buildings on the South Side. She expects to break ground on the first one, near 79th and Halsted in the fall.

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