When it comes to the fallout from our region's heroin epidemic, there are more sad stories than can possibly be told.
Few are more heartbreaking than those of the children left in addiction's wake.
Thousands of grandparents and other relatives around Greater Cincinnati are now raising those children. And WCPO heard from scores of them after a story I wrote about Jeanne Miller-Jacobs and her husband, who have been raising their three grandkids for the past three years.
One woman wrote on WCPO's Facebook page that she was struggling to raise her four grandchildren and on the verge of losing her home.
"Please pray for me and my grandchildren we need it," she wrote.
Another wrote that she lives on a street where about 20 kids are being raised by their grandparents, ending her comment with: "People need to wake up!"
From Grandma to Mommy
Jill Weitkamp added her comment to the page and talked with me about her story.
Weitkamp is 62 and lives in Fort Thomas, Ky. She started watching her granddaughter, Chloe, when the girl was just two weeks old. Chloe started living with Weitkamp full-time when she was about 2 years old.
Chloe is the daughter of Weitkamp's older son, and both he and Chloe's mom were struggling with drug use when Chloe was born.
"I didn't have custody of her at first," Weitkamp said. "But she was here probably about 90 hours a week at least. I bought all her formula, her diapers, her clothes."
Now Chloe is a 9-year-old third-grader who sees her mom and dad but still lives with her grandma.
Raising a child is a lot of work and a lot of expense for Weitkamp, who is divorced and lives on a fixed income of less than $1,000 a month. But she said she never thought twice about raising Chloe.
"She's the only grandchild I have," she told me. "She was practically handed to me when she was still a newborn. I got so attached to her."
Weitkamp describes Chloe as funny, healthy and well mannered. When they're out, Chloe calls Weitkamp "Mommy." The little girl likes to go on what she calls "feather walks," taking a plastic baggy and bringing home the feathers she collects for a treasure box in her room.
"She's just the center of my universe," Weitkamp said.
Still, Weitkamp doesn't really go out with her friends anymore. She doesn't trust many people to babysit Chloe, and she doesn't have much family around to help.
She'll be 72 when Chloe graduates from high school, and Weitkamp expects the teenage years to be a challenge.
Still, she said, "I can't imagine my life without her."
Raising a Cousin Into a Daughter
Alesha Tillery of Hamilton commented on WCPO's Facebook page, too. She and her husband have been raising their little cousin since she was a newborn.
"It was kind of a last-minute decision," Tillery said, explaining how they decided to bring the baby into their home. "We had 48 hours to decide."
The baby's birth mother wanted her daughter to go to someone on her side of the family, but the background checks didn't pan out. Tillery's husband is related to the baby's father, who asked them at the last minute if they would consider taking her.
Tillery and her husband went to visit little Lilly in the hospital and, after spending some time with her, decided to take her.
Now Lilly is 15 months old, and the family is adopting her. The adoption should be final in November, Tillery said.
Tillery also has a 16-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. They love Lilly like a sister, she said, and are excited to change her last name when the adoption is final.
"It will definitely be something to be thankful for," Tillery said.
Just talking to Tillery, Weitkamp and Jeanne Miller-Jacobs – the grandmother in my first story – you can hear the love in their voices.
There is sadness, too. They have seen people they love battle addiction. Some have cared for babies born with heroin in their systems. And all of them know others in the same situation.
"It's all over," Tillery told me. "It's bad."
It is bad, to be sure. But thank goodness these children have grandparents and relatives who love them enough to raise them.
And thank goodness there are organizations in the region coming together to help them do that.
A conference Friday will offer help for grandparents and other relatives raising their kin.
What: Grandparents as Parents Conference
When: Sept. 11 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Where: Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington, Ky.
Cost: $5 for grandparents or relatives; $50 for professionals (includes lunch)
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.