Mary Rose Borbon was an infant when her grandmother picked her up from the filthy house where she lived with her drug-addicted mother.
Rosa Borbon, 66, planned to keep her granddaughter long enough for Mary Rose's mother to get off drugs, or until the girl's father got out of prison.
Mary Rose, now 12, met her mother just a few times before Irma died of a drug overdose four years ago. The young girl's father cycles in and out of prison, and when he's out, he's "out of it," Rosa says.
"I love him dearly, but I don't love what he's done with his life," she says of her son.
As an insulin-dependent diabetic whose health is frail, Rosa makes sure Mary Rose stays busy and academically focused, but finds it hard to do active things with her granddaughter.
Money is always a challenge. She was getting $16 a month in food stamps - enough for milk and eggs - but she just found out she no longer qualifies.
With Social Security and disability money and little else, there's rarely money for extras like pizza or movie tickets.
"Getting to the end of the month is the hardest thing," she says. She needs a hearing aid, for example, but can't afford it.
But what Rosa has found, even with the struggles, is a community of people who support one another.
She remembers turning to Tucson's KARE Family Center for help when she first brought the baby home and had nothing for her but some diapers and a few articles of clothing.
Since then, she has met many more grandparents who are raising grandchildren, and they are coming together more to socialize and share. Recently, a group held a pool party in someone's backyard.
"We're trying to get more involved in getting together so that (the children) know they are not alone and that there are many other children who are like them," she says.
There's also Pima Prevention Partnership's nationally recognized AZ STARS mentoring program.
Since 2003, the organization has provided mentors for more than 2,800 children of prisoners in collaboration with Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
"If it wasn't for them, I don't know what I would have done, with all we've been through," Rosa says.
Often, children of prison inmates end up with relatives or grandparents who live on a fixed income and can't handle the increased cost, says Claire E. Scheuren, CEO of Pima Prevention Partnership.
Mentoring improves school performance, Scheuren says, and decreases delinquency by fostering resiliency in the child.
"We're trying to break the cycle with the people we serve," Scheuren says.
Mary Rose was 7 when she met her Big Sister, Wendy Travis.
Travis, a young mother who recently had her first baby, does things with Mary Rose that her grandmother can't, such as roller skating, swimming and bowling.
"We try to talk a lot, too. We text a lot back and forth," Travis says. "When I first met her, she was a little scared, shy person, and now she's so much more of an adult."
Travis hopes Mary Rose will continue to share as she ages, especially when there are critical choices to be made.
Mary Rose is on her way to a better life, and her grandmother and her "big" want to make sure it stays that way.
"I am so proud of her," Rosa says.
Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or email@example.com.