Connie Siskowski, a 1967 Johns Hopkins Nursing graduate, earned the 2009 Purpose Prize for creating the Caregiving Youth Project in Palm Beach County, FL , an organization that provides support to youths who act as caregivers to ill or disabled family members in their own homes. The Purpose Prize is an award for social innovators in their encore careers; Siskowski received $50,000 to continue her work.
Siskowski’s personal experience as a youth caregiver led her to create the Caregiving Youth Project. She acted as her grandfather’s caregiver from the ages of 11-13 years old as he battled the final stages of heart disease. According to a 2005 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Hospital Fund, between 1.3 and 1.4 million children nationwide serve as primary caregivers. Siskowski was one of many kids who cook, clean, and dispense medicine, on top of doing homework.
Siskowski is the first in the nation to create a comprehensive support system for youth caregivers. The Caregiving Youth Project facilitates support groups in middle schools, offers classes on life skills, conducts homes visits to link families to help, and provides other resources to ease some of the responsibility and give youth caregivers the chance to be kids, according to Siskowski’s profile on the Purpose Prize website.
Along with the Caregiving Youth Project, Siskowski established the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) to educate families, health and social service providers, teachers, and the public about the issues that can affect caregiving youth. It’s the only organization for caregiving youth in the country, according to AACY’s website. Both entities are under the auspices of Volunteers for the Homebound and Family Caregivers, which she began in 1998 as a Faith in Action program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Caregiving Youth Project currently helps more than 260 students in seven of Palm Beach County’s 33 middle schools. The AACY is working to establish an affiliate network of Caregiving Youth Project Partners and other support systems throughout the country.
“I hope that, with the right tools, communities will recognize, reach out, and support caregiving youth to safeguard their physical and mental health, their schooling, and their futures,” Siskowski said.
Siskowski also received a lifetime Ashoka Fellows award in 2009 for the Caregiving Youth Project and to promote its replication through the AACY. The Ashoka organization recognizes leading social entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to social problems.
Watch a video profile about Siskowski at the Purpose Prize website and visit the AACY website for information about the Caregiving Youth Project.