We’re excited to feature the voices of caregivers and care workers in our new series, In Their Own Words. Our second interview is with Care Fellow Dr. Connie Kitchens. Dr. Kitchens is a retired teacher and is now raising and caring for her grandson. Read on to find out how her care experience has made Dr. Kitchens an advocate for better care policies at every stage of life.
In early 2018, I retired from a 32-year career as an educator in the schools of my hometown in Georgia. I had worked as a middle school math teacher and had been a board member in our school district and a teacher leader and support specialist. I was ready for the next phase of my life – enjoying time with my husband and more quality time with my daughters and grandchildren.
What I didn’t know is that my life was about to be flipped completely upside down. In May of that year, shortly after I retired, my 27-year old daughter, who had two young children, was diagnosed with triple metastatic breast cancer. In the next 18 months, we stepped up to do everything we could for our daughter – helping her care for her children, manage her illness, and offset her mounting bills with our retirement income. We enrolled her in experimental clinical trials at Emory to help keep the costs down.
We dealt with so much loss in just 18 months. Seeing our daughter suffer, while having to keep everything afloat, was nearly impossible. When she passed away in 2019, my husband and I became primary guardians to her two children, a nine year old girl and a four year old boy with sickle cell disease. While caring for my grandchildren has been such an important experience for me, I can’t say it is how I pictured my retirement years going.
My grandchildren are now 11 and 6 years old. Having both kids at home during the pandemic has really raised our expenses, and the cost of living has really exploded while we still have a limited income. Unfortunately, we don’t qualify for any form of public assistance because of our retirement income and the fact that we own our own home. We’ve also enrolled our grandson in clinical trials at Emory for sickle cell disease, to try to defray some of those costs.
That’s why I think the Child Tax Credit proposed by the Biden administration is a great plan. When families can get a little extra money, it’s going to help them do more for their kids. For us, $250 per child would help offset the high utility bill and help cover food. What this means for our family and others, is that it gives a leg up so that folks can work on coming out of poverty – to be comfortable, not just survive. Extending the expanded Child Tax Credit for a couple of years will help people across the country become middle class citizens, and get them back on their feet, especially after the pandemic.
Due to my daughter and grandson’s illnesses, I’ve become a volunteer in caregiving and cancer advocacy. For me, volunteering as a Care Fellow with Caring Across has been a tremendous time — I participated in a Get Out the Vote effort here in Georgia, and developed such a different insight into the political world, and even appeared in a Netflix show on retirement. I’ve always had relationships with local politicians through my work as an educator, but there’s a huge gap between being a politician and advocating for policies that are close to your heart. I feel seen and heard, this advocacy work is important to elevate all of our families. And I’ve seen how it can really make a difference. After all, advocacy made the Child Care Tax Credit possible – what else do we have the power to change?