Everyone loves to tell stories about visiting with grandparents during special holidays or just enjoying their daily wisdom and love over the years.

But many grandparents have taken on much greater roles in the lives of their grandchildren. In fact, millions of grandparents are now raising grandchildren in their homes despite poverty-level income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many are retirement age; yet still working. Some are even disabled.

Whatever the situation, these unsung heroes deserve to be celebrated and honored for their selfless giving. Such an opportunity is coming up on National Grandparents Day, Sept. 8, 2013.

This is the day first set aside in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, who signed a federal proclamation, declaring the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day to honor our nation’s grandparents. The proclamation followed an eight-year campaign to establish a day to honor grandparents, led by Marian McQuade, a member of the West Virginia Commission on Aging.

Now, 35 years later, National Grandparents Day 2013 provides an opportunity to spotlight the immeasurable significance of grandparents in the lives of their families and in the fabric of our communities.  U. S. Census Bureau statistics show the following:

  • At least 2.7 million grandparents were responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under the age of 18 who were living with them in 2011. This amounted to at least 5.5 million children depending on the care of their grandparents. Nearly half of these children were under the age of 6.
  • More than a half million of these grandparents (594,000) were living below the poverty level.
  • At least 1.7 million of these grandparents were still working.
  •  More than a half million of these grandparents (657,000) had some form of disability.

Researchers have found that grandparents raising grandchildren – regardless of the reason – often find themselves facing major new challenges. Among them are financial crunches with shortages of income for food and school needs; social limitations with their freedom being curtailed because of their responsibilities to children and even legal hurdles as they make decisions on behalf of a child that is not their own. Compounding the situation is the fact that grandparents may not know where to go for help for the challenges they face or how to make life easier.

As we honor grandparents on this National Grandparents Day, Sept. 8, 2013, perhaps the gift of information could be added to the list of ways to show appreciation for their sacrificial love.

For more information on programs to help grandparents navigate their way through parenting the second time around, please visit: usa.gov/Topics/Grandparents and aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/info-08-2011/grandfamilies-guide-support.

Our goal is to make it easier.

Edna Kane-Williams is vice-president of Multicultural Engagement at AARP.