Becoming a Surrogate Grandparent in the Children's Village

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

It may add twenty years to my life or it may lead me to an early grave but this grandpa will soon be living in a village with twenty-four kids. On August 1st of this year, the Children's Village of Sonoma County will be opening its doors to provide four homes for abused and neglected children, six to twelve years of age in an intergenerational setting. House parents will live in at each of the four homes currently completed, but the village, located on a two-acre site in Santa Rosa, also features on-site apartments for surrogate grandparents. Initially, that includes two grandmas and me. Ultimately, when the second phase of construction is completed, there will be six grandparent apartment units on the property and homes for forty-eight children.

Lia Rowley, the Founder and Executive Director of Children's Village, is a believer in the influence grandparents can exert in the lives of children. "Kids, especially those from abusive backgrounds, have had little experience with the kind of unconditional love that grandparents can provide," says Rowley, "Having older folks living right on the village property will add a homey touch to village life. I'm betting that the presence of elders will do more to de-institutionalize the village than anything else we can do."

Village grandparents will not receive a salary. We will be volunteers who, in return for a discount on the cost of our rental units, commit to giving ten to twelve hours per week volunteering in a variety of ways with the kids. We can help kids with their homework, read stories to the little ones, and maybe take them out for an ice cream. Our biggest gift will be simply spending time with the kids, giving them someone to talk to, to pay attention to them. It's a gramma/grandpa thing and it adds an intangible something extra to a kid's life.

Although we are volunteers, grandparents will be very much a part of the village staff. We will undergo training with the house parents and other paid staff, "because." says Rowley, "grandparents are considered staff and it's important that we all be on the same page with our rules and policies." I suspect, however, that Lia, being a grandmother herself and knowing the tendency of grandparent types to spoil their grandchildren, will also give us a little slack.

In addition to integrating grandparents into village life, the Children's Village is also committed to keeping brothers and sisters together. Too often in the foster care system, siblings are broken up because it is too difficult for a foster parent to take on several kids at once. The Children's Village will keep members of the same family together.

Children's Village of Sonoma County is not the first inter-generational facility for abused or neglected kids. Hope Meadows in Rantoul, Illinois is operating a similar program using the services of "honorary" grandparents who also live on site. But this will be a first for the west coast.

The Children's Village is accepting children for long-term placement from all over California. Priority will be given to children six to twelve and every effort will be made to keep siblings together, even if one sibling in a family is slightly older or younger.

Please say a prayer for me as I instantly add twenty-four new grandchildren to the two I have already. May the kids have patience with me, survive my shortcomings and even learn something from an old guy who was actually living in a world before television or ii-pods.

To learn more about Children's Village, call 707-566-7044, give me a call at 544-3763 or check our website at