Making a Difference: Diane Vivian’s Story
‘… if we all hold hands and walk together we can move mountains.’
This is Diane Vivian’s inspiring story of how she came to create the organisation Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.
It all began for me in 1997 when we had two foster grandchildren unexpectedly arrive on our doorstep. We took them in and the journey was sheer hell – involvement with the family court, CY&F social workers and lawyers. As well as that we were dealing with severely traumatised children and that was hard.
After two years I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one who is doing this.’ I decided to put an advert in my local paper to see if there were others. I couldn’t believe the phone calls we got. After fielding many, many calls we called our first meeting and ten people turned up. For about six months we cried, we vented and ranted and raved. After that we felt confident enough to take it to the next level. That was to call in some Ministers and explain our experiences and talk about what was wrong in the system.
From there the word spread and I got contacted by another set of grandparents and asked if they could start a support group and it went from there. Now it’s been going for 7 years we have got 43 support groups throughout the country.
I knew right from day one that was something special. It was just a gut feeling. One of our early mottos was ‘we can and will make a difference.’ And that’s true. As more and more people came on board I had to keep expanding the boundaries and thinking ahead.
Politically we are here and we need to be listened to. It’s through strength of numbers we can make a difference. I liken it to if we all hold hands and walk together we can move mountains. Everyone expected we would go away within two years, But we didn’t. We got bigger and stronger. And we’ve done it with purity. It wasn’t done for monetary reasons it – it was done because of an injustice. Now we’ve got recognition by government because we didn’t go away.
Our membership base is 3160 and we’re all volunteers – nobody gets paid. I’m really, really proud of that. I’m the National Convener and a trustee of the board and I do most of the donkeywork. I write a newsletter that goes out every month and the members just hang on it, because we tell it how it is.
I’ve had many people saying, ‘This is a lifeline. Thank you!’ It’s just a simple thing – thank you – but it means so much.
Most of our grand parents are raising children who are troubled, who have got issues – be it psychological or special needs. Sometimes they can feel shame but they’ve got to be proud. They are prepared to step up to the plate rather than see their grandchildren get lost in the foster care system and end up goodness-knows-where.
These grandparents – they do it. What they sacrifice astounds me. I think they are an amazing bunch of people. It’s particularly hard for those surviving on a small amount. What concerns me is that often these grandparents would rather see little Johnny go on his school trip than pick up their prescription for their diabetes or their heart tablets.
This organisation has given them the courage to speak up because they know they’re not alone. And that’s what it’s all about. Because in the role of being a grandparent raising grandchildren you become very isolated. Your friends disappear because all of a sudden you’ve got these two unruly kids that can swear like a trooper and are totally out of control. Your friends are going on overseas trips and you’re going on school trips, doing homework – and dealing with huge family dynamics.
I hear a lot of tragedy but I also hear a lot of inspiration. Sometimes I find the despair of grandparents quite challenging – the sadness and the tears. I deal with that with humour. I’ve been where they are so there’s a deeper understanding. I can talk to them on a level they will understand.
That helps tremendously. It’s a journey that we all travel together.
There have been many obstacles to overcome as Grandparent’s Raising Grandchildren has grown. At times it can be very discouraging. Sometimes I’ve felt like throwing in the towel but when I look at the bigger picture I see together we can make a difference for these children and grandparents.
I’m not afraid of getting up and saying how it is but I wasn’t always like that. I’ve learned! I’ll never forget my first speech down at my local networking meeting. I’d been going along quietly sitting in the background.
Then I was told, ‘Okay it’s time Diane. Your organisation needs to put its voice out there.’ So I typed out all these notes and got in front of all these people and started reading my speech. The next minute I started shaking, because it was the first time I’d exposed myself and what we were going through to the general public. I ended up in tears. And as I looked around the audience I saw tears on other people’s faces too. That made it all right. Now I love talking to the public and helping them to understand what these people are going through. I really do. I just go out and tell it how it is. I don’t need notes. They’re being told the truth and that’s very powerful.
The greatest joy for me was two years ago. We were lucky enough to get some money from the ASB Trust to put on a barbeque for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. It was a magnificent day. It was catered for. We had clowns. We had fairies – all sorts of things. We had bus loads coming from all over the show. To see all those children with their grandparents – to me that was the icing on the cake. That made it all worthwhile. It was just brilliant!
That makes up for all the work that’s involved. It really does! That’s what drives me. So many people can benefit.
I thrive in the work. There’s a great sense of achievement and a great pride in it. What inspires me is to be able to make change – to make things better – to help people to help themselves. It’s also giving something back to your community.
I believe if everyone does nothing, nothing gets accomplished. Someone’s got to do something. I live by that. I’ve got the drive and the passion. I won’t let it go. I never put off today for tomorrow, because you never what tomorrow will bring. Some days I’m running around like a chook. That’s why I love working from home. I can talk on the phone and peel the potatoes, make the girls school lunches and vacuum the floors and do my stuff as well.
I do believe in a higher power but it’s not about that. It just that these people are so vulnerable. They’ve been ignored for so long. It’s like an inner drive. Just looking back at what has been achieved is a great incentive to keep going and achieve more.
I can’t really explain it. I never in my wildest dreams thought we would be raising grandchildren. Never! I never thought I’d get nits at my age but I do. Sometimes I wonder if it was send to me for a reason but really I’ve got no idea.”
A message of hope from Diane
“Don’t let people knock you down. You can do whatever you want to do. If it feels right and you can make a difference go out there and give it a shot.
You may be surprised at what you can achieve. ”
For more information about Grandparents Raising Grandchildren visit their