About 13 years ago, Donna Montgomery made a promise to a dying mother that she would raise and care for the woman’s six children.

Montgomery, 47, was already raising her four teenagers as a single working mom.

She took on the challenge of raising 10 children on her stretched budget from her job as a personal care attendant because she had raised the mother of six as her stepdaughter. When the young mother died of cancer at age 28, Montgomery said she could not live with the thought of denying the woman’s children a home and the opportunity to grow up with her own children.

Despite her unselfish efforts, she quickly learned that state programs offer little assistance for those raising children not related to them. She applied for aid through the federal government’s Kinship Care program and was denied help.

“There is no service in the state that would help. You have to be biologically kin to them. I am their step-grandmother, but I cannot receive help. That is how the system works. Sometimes I would ask, ‘How can you take on all of these kids and not get assistance?’ It was a big struggle.”

Thanks to community programs that aim to help area residents, Montgomery managed to get help to feed her expanded family.

She turned to the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program where she met its co-founder and volunteer, Rose Doolittle, and Catholic Charities Diocese volunteers, who helped her secure food stamps and other aid.

“They made a blessing for me and the six kids,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said she was the children’s only hope at the time of her stepdaughter’s death.

“I didn’t want to put them in foster homes,” she said. “And by them being related to my children, I took it upon myself to take them in. But the state has nothing out there for people helping other people.”

Montgomery said she made the right decision to continue raising them despite her challenges. “I think I did wonderfully with my struggles as a working mom caring for 10 children.”

Montgomery also stands solid in her faith.

“I stay in church and I stay on my knees,” she said.

Montgomery also plans to attend the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren free conference from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 27 at the Holiday Inn South, 9940 Airline Highway.

“As an advocate for this population for over 14 years, I have worked with many non-relatives as parents,” said Doolittle. “They are raising these children to prevent them from entering the foster care system. Some of the triggering events are death of a parent, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, incarceration” and more, she said.

Perhaps Montgomery’s plight can further raise awareness on the issue.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.