"I don't believe a family should be split up as long as there is a grandmother or some other kind who can take care of the little children." said Eva Mae Dorn, as she carefully folded a tiny pair of jeans and placed them on a stack of freshly ironed clothes beside her.
"A lot of grandmothers saw they don't want to be bothered with their grandkids." They say it's too expensive and a lot of trouble." Mrs. Dorn, 59, told a recent visitor to her southeast Washington apartment "but I try not to be like that. My grandchildren are my own flesh and blood and I feel I've got to do what I can help them."
Mrs. Dorn, reared by her grandmother on a farm in South Carolina, has informally adopted eight of the offspring, of her two sons and two daughters. Over the last 15 years, she said the children - ages 2 to 15 - have left with her following broken marriages's bout with drug addiction.
Day after day, Mrs. Dorn - who suffers with high blood pressure, diabetes and a heart ailment - wages a defiant struggle to provide for the needs of her own 17-year-old daughter and eight grandchildren who live-with her on welfare in the Barry Farms public housing project.
"My grandmother taught us that a family should always stick together, that we should love on another and try to help one another," said Mrs. Dorn.
"I've asked the good Lord to just let me live long enough to see the little ones grow up and get from under foot to the place where they can take care of themselves." she said.
Historically, the grnadmother has been a powerful central figure in the black family with a degree of order and stability during times of social and financial crises.
Frank Furtenberg professor of sociology at the Unibersity of Pennsylavania describe the grandmother as a "source of strength" in the black family where she helpd provide a bridge from one trauma to the next and gurantees that the family can continue.
"The phenomenon of the family headed by a grandmother is more common among black families only because blacks tend to experience more social and economic troubles than some other groups." said Furstenberg, author of the book "Unplanned Parenthood." a study of 400 adolescent mothers.
"The grandmother-headed household, although seen as a weakness of the blck family is actually one of its greatest strengths and assets," he said.
According to Robert B. Hill, director of research for the Nationa Urban League, twqo thirds of all black children under age 18 living with relatives are grandchildren of the heads of the household.
"The historic fortitude and self-reliance of the black elderly is vividly reflected in the fact that they are moremlikely to take others into their house holds than to be taken into the households of younger relatives," Hill states in his book, "Informal Adoption Among Black Families."
Mrs. Dorn, a widow since her husband, Lonnie, died of lung-cancer in 1971, has two sons, Wille 37, a store manager, and Hwnry, 38, who works on a trash truck and two daughters, Clora 17, who attends high school, and Gracie, 31, who is treated for drug addicition.
Fifteen years ago, in 1962, Mrs. Dorn she took in her grandchildren who she said was born to the girlfriend of her son, Willie, following an unplanned pregranancy.
In 1964, Mrs. Dorn said her oldest son, Henry and his wife separated and her son brought his 17-month-old daughter to be reared by her grandmother
When he grandson was born in 1969, Mrs. Dorn said she kept the child while his mother, Anna Brown, and his father became mentally ill two years ago and last Marck was found dead on a Washington street, accordin to Mrs. Dorn. The coroner ruled that Anna Brown died of chronic alcoholism, said Mrs. Dorn, who became permanent guardian of the child.
Mrs. Dorn took charge of four other grandchildren in 1974 when her daughter, Gracie, who Mrs. Dorn said is drug-addicited, became incapable of providing adequate housing and parental care for the children.
Mrs. Dorn took charge of four other grandchildren in 1974 when her daughter, Gracie, who Mrs. Dorn said is drug-addicted, became incapable of providing adequate housing and parental care for the children.
The eight grandchildren was born to Mrs. Dorn's daughter, Clora, 17, two years ago. Mrs. Dorn said she keeps the child so that her daughter can be free to complete high school and possible begin a career.
Each month, Mrs. Dorn said she receives $842 in welfare and social security allotments to pay the rent and to buy food and clothing for her 10-member family.
Through meticulous budgetting, she said she is able to pay the $174 monthly rent, buy $400 woth of food, with some money left bo buy clothing, various household items and to even put a pennies aside.
"I try to make sure children have something nice when days like Christmas and Easter come around," she saud, "In May, I begin saving up little money to buy the kids school clothes. In September, I start buying the little toys they will have for Christmas. In January, I start putting a few pennis aside to get them something for Easter."
Mrs. Dorn said she guides her family with the kind od wisdom that comes only through a lifetime asquaniutance with the pains of poverty.
Two years after her mother died, Mrs. Dorn and her three sibling were taken in by her grandmother who already had 16 children crowded into two bedrooms.
"We have always-been poor, but that didn't mean we couldn't be clean and proud," she said. "My grandmother used to tell us that if we had bread and water, you can make it. I remember many days when we had nothing to eat corn bread and but termillic.
"I try to teach my grandchildren that even though we're poor in this family we can make it if to tell them to gether," she said. "I try to tell them to stay in school, study hard, and one day they won't have to live like this. They can have something better."
Mrs. Dorn said she and her husband had been tenant farmers in Edgefield, S.C. on acreage owned by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) before they ventured to Washington in 1943 in search of better jobs and a higher standard of living.
They both wen to work at the Pentagon. Mrs. Dorn worked as a charwoman, while her husband got a job as a laborer. Their standard of living was higher than it had been on the farm, she said.
"I tried very hard to teach my kids what my grandmother taught us - that you should never appal something from somebody, Manys, believe in God, respect your elders and never to to had with a man unless he is your husband, Mrs. Dorn said.
"All of my children did met turn out like I had hoped they could. But the young people of today don't seem to want to follow the old fashioned teaching," she said. add 8 grandmother - L
Mrs. Dorn's greatest difficulty in her efforts to maintain custody of her grandchildren has been the finding at decent housing.
Until 18 months ago, she lived with her grandchildren and daughter, Gracie, in a large dilafitefated row house at 74th and T Street, NW.
The rundown house could not meet city housing stardusts and Mrs. Dorn who asked to move. She moved into two bedroom apartment near 5th and R Streets, NW where she said condition were no better.
"There were no light upstairs. There was falling plaster, no heat, the toilet was stopped up and the faucets leaked," said Mrs. Dorn. "We also had roaches and rats almost as big as the kids. Sometimes I sat up all right with the light on to keep the rats. The owner said he could not affort to
Last September, city housing inspectors ordered the owner od the R Street apartment necessary repairs or shut down the building. The owner saidhe could not affort to repair the building and Mrs. Dorn was asked to find another home.
Mrs. Dorn applied for an apartment in public housing throughs the National Capital Housing Authority, but was told there were no units vacant large enough to accommodate her family.
The three-month search to locate housing for Mrs. Dorn was joined by numerous community workers including Carilton Smith, a Unit Planning Organization housing specialist and Brenda Robbins, a services representative of the city's Office of Child Productive Services.
"Mrs. Dorn was on the streets every day0asking people if they had a place for her family to stay," said Miss Robbins, the family's case worker. "A lot of mother would have just sat back and let us look for them a house, but Mrs. Dorn said she didn't want any family to be split up."
"When the cold weather came in November and Mrs. Dorn still hadn't found a place, we though we might have to temporarily put her gradchildren in foster homes until she could do better," said Miss Robbins.
After a series of urgent letters were sent back and forth by various social agencies pressing NCHA for a unit for Mrs. Dorn and after she threatened to take her case to Sen. Thurmond, a five0bedroom apartment was made available in Barry Farms where many of the neighboring units are vacant and boarded up. The family moved in on Dec. 3.
"The idea that may kids might be taken away from me really hurt," she said last week as she ironed a huge stack of clothes. "I think it would kill me to see my children be put in a home. If they out my kids in a home, they'll have to put me in there too."
The living room is a dusty place with dingy gray floor tile. There is a plastic potted plant against one tall and a soiled sectional couch along another. A black and white television drones in the backgroune.
"This place isn't much now, but in Mrs. Dorn. %I'm trying to save what little I can to buy some furniture."
"It's just a blessing for me to be able to cook and clean and wash for the children. Some people are pot even able to do that," she said. "I always tell the children that we're having it hard, but their lives will be better."