By Stephon Johnson
Amsterdam News Staff

The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.

She may be retired, but that doesn’t mean Iolene Williams is resting. She has a family to help.

Iolene Williams, 77, retired from teaching in New York City 13 years ago. She’s now living her post-retirement in Cobb County, Georgia. 

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s her family or strangers. 

“I see my family as my family, and not just family members,” Williams said. “No matter whether they’re married, 15,000 miles away or whatever, you’re still family. Even if you’re attached to the family though marriage. You’re not going to leave them hurting.”

Williams has spent all her life helping others. As a special education teacher in New York City, she helped those who many would say need it the most. She’s helped strangers with problems so much to the point that in college, she was given the nickname “Angel.” When a family member needs a helping hand, she’s there.

Marquelle Marks – Williams’ grandson – can speak to that. He needed a place to stay, and Williams opened her wallet and her home to him. 

“I have been fortunate enough to have my grandmother provide food and shelter for me when I needed it most,” Marks said. “I would have, in all likelihood, been sleeping in my car had it not been for her help and understanding.”

Williams has seen Marks’ development since she took him in. 

“He’s doing excellent,” Williams said. “And I’m really proud of him. I’m so proud of all my kids and I keep saying all of my kids because I am a matriarch of the family so therefore they are my kids, my children and my children’s children. I’m proud of them. And I cherish that.”

Williams, who was born on a farm in Kinston, North Carolina, and moved to New York when she was a teenager, learned a lot of her lessons from her parents. As a kid, she learned the spirit of giving.

“My mom and my father were always looking to see what they can do for somebody else, even though they were very poor,” Williams said. “I’ve observed and now follow the belief they actually taught us … the Bible way and to follow the footsteps. Don’t be so stingy: open your fist, give and help someone.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to family members leaning on each other more than ever before. Williams was no exception — helping with rent, bills and more for her nephews, nieces, daughters and sons.

Her son, Jay Franklin, had a front row seat to his mother’s generosity.

“I’ve witnessed my mother help out countless amounts of people over the years, and family have been no exception,” Franklin said. “She always true to lend a helping hand, be it through care packages or via financial means.”

Her daughter, Angela Crayton, had an even closer view of her mother’s help.

“She’s looked out for her daughters on a regular basis even when they’re doing well,” Crayton said. “She’s helped family deal with recovery from various issues and has helped them financially while taking care of their kids for a period of time until they get back on their feet. Her home is a welcoming home.”  

“She’s helped me even when I fought against it,” Crayton said, laughing.

Williams has lived a long life and has seen the positives and the negatives that it offers. But throughout it all, she never forgot family. Now? She can just rest … and help someone, if they need it.

“I’m happy. I don’t have to worry about paying bills; the job that I had enables me to sit back and relax and [not] worry about where I’m going to [get] a piece of bread,” Williams said.

“Because the more you give, the more you get back. It’s always worked for me.”