Every evening after dinner, Joe Johnson reaches for his cellphone and calls his twin grandsons – Justice at his Guild residence and Raekwon at Crotched Mountain School. “Grampy” enquires about their days, sings them each a song (“Old MacDonald Had a Farm” for Justice, “I Will Always Love You” for Raekwon) and then concludes the call with a familiar phrase that the boys sometimes complete themselves: “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Since assuming guardianship of Justice and Raekwon when they were just a few months old, Joe and his wife, Kim Sneed-Johnson, have dedicated themselves to keeping away the metaphorical bedbugs and ensuring that their 17-year-old grandsons feel loved, cared for and supported.

Until a heart ailment this spring forced Joe to curb his travels, the retired teacher faithfully saw each of his grandsons twice a week. He would share lunch with Justice at The Guild School during the week and stop by his residence on the weekend for brunch and, occasionally, to give him a haircut. Joe also made the 2 ½-hour trek from his Boston home to see Raekwon at his school in Greenfield, New Hampshire, two times a week. Nearly recovered now, Joe plans to resume his visiting schedule soon.

“We love those boys with all of our hearts,” Joe and Kim say. “They are our joy, our strength, our challenge and our reason for getting up in the morning.”

Sunday (Sept. 8) is
national Grandparents Day, a time to celebrate the impact that grandparents make on their children’s children. It would be impossible to calculate the effect that Joe and Kim have had on Justice and Raekwon.

After giving birth to the twins, Joe’s daughter encountered some medical difficulties. “The boys were kind of left in limbo, going between different places,” Joe explains.

There were discussions about the twins being put up for adoption – until Joe and Kim stepped forward. When Justice and Raekwon were five months old, Joe and Kim petitioned the court for custody. “We thought it would be the best situation for them,” Joe says. “We thought it was our obligation to give them the best care we possibly could.”

At the age of 22 months old, both boys were diagnosed with pervasive development disorder (now often called autism spectrum disorder). Raekwon has been at Crotched Mountain since 2012. Justice lived at home until coming to the Guild in 2018.

“Despite the complications with their disabilities, they are wonderful,” says Kim, a kindergarten teacher. “They are the happiest, most easygoing kids. We could be challenged so much more. They have been such a blessing in our lives.”