TWIN FALLS — Myril Houk of Hazelton tells an all-too-familiar story:
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare took Houk's young grandchildren from her meth-addicted daughter and put them in foster care. Her daughter has been in and out of jail ever since.
Houk filed for custody of her grandchildren, but a judge awarded it to their birth father, who was never married to the children's mother. Houk and her husband see their grandchildren every other weekend and provide security and support for the family.
"We continue to pick up the pieces," she said.
Houk started the fledgling Grandparents United for Change out of personal necessity.
"When we were first reunited with the girls, they were really struggling with not having their mom in their lives," she said at the Twin Falls-based group's November meeting. The girls were "living in a situation of physical abuse and different kinds of trauma — I went everywhere for assistance for them and kept hitting a wall."
Convinced that "kin care" is preferable to foster care, Houk is determined to create a local support system for those raising second families.
Houk plans to file the paperwork for tax-exempt nonprofit status by Jan. 1. The group will have a board of five or six volunteers. Some are raising grandchildren; others simply recognize the need for such a group. An initial group has formed to recruit board members and raise money through networking.
Board seats will alternate, and terms will run for two years.
The board will oversee the direction and operation of Grandparents United for Change, which already has an office at 155 Second Ave. N., Suite 202, in Twin Falls. Houk's group has raised enough money to open the office, where she holds weekly support group meetings. Most of the money raised so far has come from local businesses. Chobani, Chevrolet of Twin Falls and others have donated goods for fundraisers.
The group wants a diverse board of directors.
“We want a good foundation,” Houk said.
Houk will not sit on the board; she plans to continue her work as director and will remain in charge of the day-to-day operations. She will volunteer as the director for the first year, or until the organization gets on its feet.
The group plans to eventually hire office help and to contract other services, such as legal services and counseling for children and adults.
She anticipates needing $100,000 for 2017. Her group has set a goal of raising 70 to 80 percent of that through donations and fundraisers. Houk plans to apply for grants for the other 30 percent.
The Grandparents United for Change mission is to support family caregivers in achieving safety, permanency and well-being for their families through education, advocacy and community collaboration.
It lists three core values: provide resources and education, protect caregivers and children and promote unity of families.
The group's vision: One day all children will live in a safe and loving home, with relatives who inspire them to develop their full potential and to lead productive lives.
And its goals: ensure permanent placement with relatives in lieu of foster care, address special needs of children being raised by family caregivers, advocate for relative caregivers and raise awareness of their needs.