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Posted on Sat, Dec 15, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

Dress for Success helps out Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

By Lisa Carolin

Saturday may feel like Christmas for a group of local families.

They include 13 children ages 3 months to 15 years, who are being raised by their grandparents. They were selected to receive presents from the Dress for Success professional women's group, which has chosen as its community action project this year "Helping Hands: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Kinship Care Families."

The families gathered at the office of Dress for Success Michigan in Ypsilanti Saturday afternoon where Bernadette McClair, community action project leader, handed out the gifts at a Christmas gathering.

McClair selected the six families by attending a Grandparents as Parents support group meeting and asking if anyone was interested. Among today's participants are a woman who now cares for her grandchildren because their mother was murdered this year. According to AARP, there are more than 70,000 grandparent caregivers for children in Michigan.

"We will be partnering with various companies and organizations that will provide resources to the families," said McClair. "We will offer groceries and information for these families and provide them with clothing from Dress for Success Michigan."

McClair herself began as a recipient of clothing from Dress for Success Michigan, which has the mission to advance low-income women's economic and social development and to encourage self-sufficiency through career development and employment retention. McClair was a survivor of domestic violence and divorce and moved from Ann Arbor to Detroit, where she was employed.

"I was taking care of myself and my children with no financial support and couldn't afford nice clothing, so I was referred to Dress for Success," said McClair. "Not only did they provide me with clothing, but it was well taken care of clothing like suits donated from Hudson's, Saks FIfth Avenue and Dress Barn."

McClair says that having nice clothes to wear to her job gave her confidence and opened the door for her to reach out to other women in similar situations. Among the grandparents she is helping are Pearl Wilkins and Suzzette Rutley, both of Ypsilanti Township.

"When I first picked my granddaughter up from California (when my daughter was in a coma), all she had was what was on her back," said Wilkins. "I also needed help when I got my grandson last year."

"I needed help for my four grandchildren," said Rutley, who says she has benefited tremendously from the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program. "Even though we are grandparents, we are still learning so much about being a parent, like handling stress, behaviors with the kids, and financial management."

Dress for Success Michigan is working on an art project about grandparents raising grandchildren with the fifth grade class at Burns Park Elementary School in Ann Arbor.

Donations to Dress for Success Michigan can be dropped off at 5361 McAuley Dr., Suite 1125 at the St. Joseph Hospital Campus in Ypsilanti, turning right at the Catherine's House Sign and continuing right near the loading dock. Contact the store at 734-712-0517 or McClair at 734-646-0351 for more information.