KINGSPORT — For Kenneth S. and his three grandsons, life has changed dramatically since last holiday season.
For the first time in his life, the 62-year-old man from western Sullivan County has turned to the Salvation Army for help.
Also unlike this time last year, he has custody of three grandsons, ages 2, 6 and 8, and has been unable to work much because he takes care of them. They first came to stay with him on Feb. 26 “with the clothes on their back, and that was it.”
On Nov. 8, Kenneth was awarded custody, and he’s had the three put on the Angel Tree list for this Christmas. The family also may be chosen to receive food from the Rescue Fund, for which potential Tennessee recipients are screened by the Salvation Army.
HOW DID THIS SITUATION COME ABOUT?
The youngest boy has delayed speech development and a clubfoot, which is being treated by the Shriners Hospitals for Children. All three youngsters have health insurance through TennCare for children.
Their father is in a Tennessee prison facing up to 27 years, and their mother isn’t around, Kenneth said. In addition, the court has taken away their rights to the children, has ordered the parents to have no contact with them without court permission and has given Kenneth full but “temporary” custody. He said the “temporary” part is mostly a formality since there is little chance either parent will have much to do with the children before they turn 18.
“Basically, I’ll be the one raising these kids,” Kenneth said.
“It’s the first time I’ve had to ask anybody for anything. I’ve done for myself all my life,” he said in an interview in his mobile home Wednesday. “It was really hard to ask.”
WHAT WAS THE IRONY OF HIS REQUEST?
What he asked for after getting custody Nov. 8 was to get the boys on the Angel Tree list of the Kingsport Salvation Army so the three would have some gifts. He said the irony is that he, his ex-wife and his fiancee’s family always donated their unneeded clothes to the Salvation Army.
“If I could work a decent job, I could provide for them better than what’s going on,” Kenneth said.
“I’ve had too much pride. I’ve had to let it go,” he said. “These kids deserve a lot better.”
WHY IS KENNETH NOT WORKING FULL TIME?
Kenneth said he hopes to restart his mowing business in the spring of 2019, but he will have to work to reestablish a customer base since he was unable to keep up a regular schedule this year. He said the two older children will be in school and that his fiancee will keep the youngest one.
Kenneth worked full time for the city of Kingsport in sewer services for more than 18 years. After that, he drove dump trucks but had to give up his commercial driver’s license required for that job when he had to go on an anti-anxiety medication not allowed for CDL work.
He also used a lump sum city retirement payment to buy mowing equipment in an effort to to start up a lawn care business in 2016, but after becoming a full-time caregiver to his grandsons, he wasn’t able to make a go of that this year.
“I can’t afford to pay child care,” he said. “She (fiancee Rebecca M.) helps me as much as she can.” However, he said she is helping care for her parents and has two kids, an 8-year-old and an 18-year-old.
“I am able to work. I can’t do as much as I used to,” he said.
To keep a roof over his head, he works two days a week for a portable bathroom operation. When he first applied for food stamps for the boys, he was offered $16, but under Families First he got $233.11, which is to go up to $327 on Dec. 1. He gets some help from food banks; his brother, a preacher; but not from the other grandparents. He said his ex-wife has a legal issue that keeps her from getting custody.
“We make it. We just gotta watch what we do,” Kenneth said. “I’m supposed to be spoiling them. I’m not supposed to be raising them.”
The Times News Rescue Fund aims to provide some of the region’s neediest residents with extra food for Christmas. The fund is dependent on the generosity of Times News readers, and no gift is too small. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Times-News Rescue Fund, 701 Lynn Garden Dr., Kingsport, TN, 37660.