WILKES-BARRE – At ages 61 and 56 respectively, James and Debbie Gushock were well along in planning for their retirement years together.
But now the couple is raising their grandson – Patrick Perillo-Gushock, 26 months old – whom they call their "little angel."
The Gushocks are two of nearly 2,200 grandparents raising their grandchildren in Luzerne County. There are 165,000 grandparents in Pennsylvania who are part of 2.7 million across the U.S. who have changed their lives to raise their grandkids.
"We wanted to do this," Debbie Gushock said. "It's like starting over again. This is our grandson; we want to provide for him."
The Gushocks attended a conference – the sixth annual Grandparents Raising Children – The New Traditional Family – Friday at Genetti Hotel & Convention Center. The event, attended by more than 200 people, was sponsored by the NEPA Intergenerational Coalition.
Howard Grossman, chairman of the event and of the coalition, said the conference was aimed at helping grandparents become familiar with the network of agencies that offer assistance.
"The conference brings to the attention of the grandparents where they can go for help," Grossman said. "And they can meet with representatives of all the agencies and learn by participating in the panel discussions."
The Gushocks said they wanted to find out all they could about how they can best provide for their grandson.
"We've decided to eat better – healthier – so we can raise him healthier," Debbie Gushock said. "We want to be around for him."
The Gushocks have had Patrick since he was a week old after they were awarded custody through the court system. They didn't want to talk about the case, but said they hope they never have to give their grandson up.
"It was either we take care of him, or he would have gone to the foster-care system," James Gushock said. "If one day someone shows up to take him, it will break our hearts."
Debbie Gushock said raising a child in today's world is much different than when they raised their two kids. She knows as Patrick gets older they will have to brush up on academics to help him with homework.
"If we have to, we will get a tutor to help him," she said.
Asked how they are dealing with dedicating their "golden years" of retirement to their grandson, they both smiled.
"We love him and we will always do the best we can for him," Debbie said. "We're always looking for ways to help Patrick."
James is a sheet metal worker by day and Debbie moved to the night shift to ensure one of them was always with Patrick. They now qualify for day care help, so Debbie will look for a daytime job.
"We're good parents," she said. "We live in a different world now – computers, cellphones and so much violence in the world. We're doing the best we can."
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