Grandma Niecy

Eight years ago, Genise Tharpe of west-suburban Chicago was a woman on a mission, searching for a girl she knew was falling through the cracks of a dysfunctional family.

To Genise, it did not matter that she had no biological ties to the girl, or that she had already raised two sons and was this close to the freedom of an empty nest. What mattered most was that the girl who once knew her as her “Grandmother,” and whose biological parents led troubled lives, needed her help.

“She’s been in my life since the day she was born,” says Genise of her now 15-year-old foster granddaughter. “Her aunt was dating my son, and so she began life thinking of me as her grandmother.” However, when the relationship between the son and aunt ended, the girl lived with another aunt, and then another. Genise lost touch, but not memories, and began to look for her. When she found her, she also found a handful of drama.

“I have had a lot of rough days with her, her behavior was so out of control,” Genise says. “At one point, her school was calling my job every single day to the point where I told a co-worker that if they called me one more time, tell them I don’t work there anymore,” she says with laughter. “She gave me hell…but I’d do it over again. When it comes down to it, kids like her need a lot of love just like the rest of us, a lot of attention and a lot of time to learn how to trust.”

With support from the JCFS team, Genise gave her granddaughter what she needed most – love, attention and trust. Soon, maturity and better behavior arrived and drama evaporated. Genise became the girl’s confidante and supporter; they now share movies, shopping, manicures and teenage secrets, and Genise beams at her granddaughter’s straight-A, honor-roll grades.

“So many of my friends told me to give her back – but I couldn’t. So many people had given up on her, she had been placed in so many different homes and everybody who told her that they weren’t going to get rid of her, did.”

“But I could not. When I was coming up as a kid, I wasn’t an angel. I looked at it this way – my parents didn’t give up on me, my mother didn’t give me away. I couldn’t give her away.”

It’s clear that Genise’s granddaughter holds a precious place in her heart. And, though she’s not quite an empty-nester, Genise has even had time to foster-care a second daughter in the past year, as well as keep her regular hair and nail appointments. “I’m the flashy type of grandmother…they call me Grandma Niecy,” she says with a wink.