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Mother’s Day holds a special significance for Laura Cooper.
Cooper became an acting parent when she adopted her granddaughter, Amber, on April 8, 1997, in Michigan. Amber was 4, about four months shy of turning 5 on her July 31 birthday.
In October 1998, shortly after adopting Amber, Cooper moved to Hardin County and founded the nonprofit organization Open Arms. It’s a support group for grandparents and acting parents raising children.
“We purposely retired early to give Amber a better life,” Cooper said.
Her husband was only 50 when he retired from a job with a telephone company.
Cooper had adopted Amber’s mother, Deanna, when Deanna was 5. Cooper also adopted another child, Tom, when he was 2.
After Deanna had Amber, she could not raise her because of her lifestyle, Cooper said.
“We had to protect the child, so we were able to adopt,” she said.
Before coming to Kentucky, Cooper belonged to Grandparents As Parents, a support group in Michigan. With the help of Hardin County Schools Family Resource and Youth Services Center, she began Open Arms.
Amber now is 19 and attends the University of Indianapolis as a business major.
“I have a very strong relationship with my grandmother. I call her Mom though,” Amber said. “There’s hardly anything she doesn’t know about me. She has been there for me my entire life and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her by my side.”
Facing some of the challenges she’s faced, Amber said, would have been unimaginable without her grandmother.
“Mother’s Day is very special because it’s just a reminder of how fortunate I was to be brought into such a loving home,” Amber said.
Open Arms, Cooper said, filled a need for those grandparents or acting parents who might need to find resources or talk with others experiencing the same thing they are.
“A lot of children slip through the cracks,” Cooper said.
Open Arms hosts three regular gatherings, one at Creekside Elementary School in Sonora, one at an Elizabethtown restaurant, usually Denny’s, and one in Hodgenville.
Reda Sanders, an Elizabethtown Open Arms member, said the group Cooper started is valuable.
“Just as a support through all turmoil,” she said.
For Janice Bradley, Cooper is a go-to person as a resource when she or any group member is asked about help.
“We direct them to her because she knows lawyers, judges and advocates,” Bradley said.
“Our group networks with a lot of different groups,” Cooper said, citing SpringHaven and the Advocacy and Support Center.
Cooper said community support for Open Arms has been good. But Open Arms must make ends meet on its own through fundraising efforts such as bake sales or sales of donated items at a booth in Peddler’s Mall in Elizabethtown.
“Open Arms gets no funding whatsoever from any other agency,” Cooper said.
In addition to her work forming Open Arms in the area, Cooper helped start the Hardinsburg Grandparent Support Group, has served on the Kentucky Statewide KinCare Steering Committee, is the recipient of the 2003 Bell Award for volunteer work in Hardin County Schools and the community and is a member of the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights.
Cooper is not just active as a grandparent who raised a grandchild. She has been vice president of the E’town Dolphin swim team and board member of the Lincoln Trail Elementary Advisory Council, among other things.
Though Amber is an adult, Cooper continues to facilitate Open Arms meetings, assisting others who are raising grandchildren. And there are many.
National figures Cooper cited put the number of children being raised by grandparents, according to a 2000 census, at 3.6 million. Closer to home, an estimated 1,600 Hardin County residents were involved in raising their grandchildren in 2000, she said.
Unfortunately, many grandparents raising grandchildren are living at poverty level, don’t know where to get assistance and often are too embarrassed to attend meetings, Cooper said. That, in part, is why Cooper believes Open Arms is so important.
“The grandparents do need the help,” she said.
GETTING TO KNOW LAURA COOPER
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or email@example.com.