SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The face of the opioid crisis in Massachusetts isn't just that of the addict, it's the children they leave behind and the grandparents who must step in and raise them.
"He said," Cheryl Johnson tells us. "Did you know that Nick lives with his grandparents?"
Cheryl Johnson's grandson, Jayden, thought it was funny to learn his classmate lives with his grandparents.
"I said," continued Johnson. "Well, yes honey, so do you."
Jayden has been living with his own grandparents since birth, but it's a connection the 6-year-old has yet to make.
"He thinks," stated Johnson. "We're more his parents than his grandparents. This is all he knows."
It's a tough topic for Cheryl to explain.
Jayden's parents are struggling with addiction.
"I will tell him," says Johnson. "You have a mom. She's just not able to care for you right now."
Cheryl says raising the kindergartener and working full-time doesn't give her the opportunity to think about what might've been.
"Wouldn't it be nice to," said Johnson. "Sit and read a book in the middle of the day? It's not the child's fault and we chose to become guardians."
Though retirement is further away for her than others her age, Cheryl says Jayden's energy keeps her young.
"He just goes and goes and goes," stated Johnson. "He's like a little puppy. It's nice to have a small child in the house. Holidays are fun. They bring joy."
"She's in such fear that they will take her away from me," Brenda Leja tells us.
8-year-old Mackenzie is being raised by her grandmother, Brenda Leja.
Just a few years older than Jayden, Mackenzie is already aware of why her parents can't be a daily force in her force.
"My son, Daniel," continued Brenda. "Was actually down at the pre-draft for Major League Baseball. Something happened to his arm, and the doctors were giving him oxycontin and Percocet and, of course, he was taking it, because you trust your doctor. Mackenzie needed a stable environment , so I was awarded permanent guardianship. This month, we're expected to go back to court, because the mother is challenging that."
Brenda says the process of maintaining guardianship over Mackenzie has been difficult on the child.
"She has strongly voice her opinion where she wants to stay," stated Brenda. "She loves her daddy, and he loves her, but he still has a lot of work to do. I pray that he's going to wake up someday and say, 'You know, that lifestyle, it robbed me of a lot. I don't want it to rob me anymore."
"We're off to a college tour," Jeanne Lamica-Pandoli tells us.
Jeanne Lamica-Pandoli is about to become an empty-nester for the first time ever at the age of sixty-three.
One grandchild is in college and the other is headed there fast, but she's been raising her granddaughter since 2010.
"They weren't in a position to be parents to their children," stated Jeanne. "Why am I doing this? I should be loving them and handing them back off to their folks, but, you know, it is what it is."
Though she had to pay for another decade of Christmases, birthdays, and extra curricular activities, these bonds are forged from circumstances no one ever wants for their child.
"The joy that these girls have brought me," continued Jeanne. "I can't tell you. You live day-by-day, [and] hope that you're not that parent that gets that phone call."
These grandparents are proof that the roots of a family tree run deeper than the roots of addiction at every stage of life.
"Everything is fun with a little one, and," added Jeanne. "New, and it's a good thing. You look at her like I look at her, and I'm thinking it was all worth it. There's nothing I wouldn't do for her."