Organization looks to expand as more teens are forced to be caregivers to adult relatives

American Assoc. of Youth Caregivers helps teens
Posted at 7:29 PM, Dec 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-29 19:29:34-05

This number doesn’t even seem possible: an estimated 10,000 children are caregivers to family members in Palm Beach County. There is only one organization to help these “hidden heroes.”

Leah Harris has a lot to smile about now. The Delray Beach teenager’s mother is cancer free.

Throughout the chemotherapy and surgeries, the 16-year-old reversed roles with her mom, and needed to take care of her.

“It was hard, but I had to do it,” said Harris.

Bette Wilson-Harris calls her daughter her hero.

“I look at her for the strength that she has within herself. I leaned on her a lot to make it through a tough time,” Wilson-Harris explained.

At times, Harris also cared for her father and grandparents who had mild strokes. All while dancing, cheering and attending school.

She may not have been able to handle everything without help from the American Association of Caregiving Youth. The Boca Raton organization teaches children like Harris how to balance school, life, and caregiving.  

“You realize you’re not the only person going through something like this,” Harris said.

Connie Siskowski launched the organization about ten years ago. Her team helped nearly 700 children this year. But she estimates 10,000 children between the ages of 8 and 18 are in similar situations.

“We really want kids to achieve success academically and personally,” she said.

The group hopes to connect with more schools, making a bigger difference in lives of families across the county. Last year, every high school senior in the program graduated.

Siskowski said many community, healthcare, and educational leaders don’t realize how many children deal with this issue, so funding isn’t there. 

“It’s only because of resources that we haven't gone into more schools,” she said.

With donations and grants, the program hopes to expand.

“I have friends out there going through so much and I told them about the group,” said Harris, who hopes the organization can help even more teens like her.

If you’d like to help, click here for more information.