By: Dale King Contributing Writer
The Boca-based American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) set a Broadway theme for its 9th Annual Heart & “Soles” fundraising event at the Pavilion Grille last month.
Singers shared songs from the Great White Way with the audience of hundreds who enjoyed dinner and dancing. Tables with centerpieces of red shafts with silver stars on top glistened with elegance.
The Broadway theme of the show gave young men and women a chance to perform tunes from musicals like Annie Get Your Gun, Chicago, Little Shop of Horrors and Fiddler on the Roof.
Watching over the festivities was Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD, who founded a nonprofit in 1998 called Boca Raton Interfaith in Action that became the American Association of Caregiving Youth in 2010. She heads the local chapter of the national resource that aids children who sacrifice their education, health, well-being and childhood to provide care for family members who are ill, injured, elderly or disabled.
AACY combines systems of healthcare, education and community to provide needs-driven services to caregiving young people in school, outside of school and at home. With AACY’s help, caregiving youth are no longer alone in the often difficult task of providing care.
“Last year, we helped 623 kids from 26 middle and high schools in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton,” said Siskowski. Throughout Palm Beach County, the number of caregiving youth is estimated at some 10,000.
The name of the event, “Heart & ‘Soles,’” said Siskowski, encouraged guests to “walk in the shoes of a caregiving youth.”
The young men and women who provide help to needy family members also entered an essay contest sponsored by the Bomar Foundation. Three winners – Daniel Garcia, Jourdan DeFrain and Roslyn Rigson – received awards at the event and will get financial gifts.
Dan Davidowitz, vice president of the AACY Board of Directors, presented accolades to the essay winners. State Senator Lori Berman pulled the winning ticket to a performance of the musical, Hamilton, a lucky ducat won by Mike Miller.
While joy and happiness filled the room filled with AACY guests, youngsters and staff, there was also emotion in the air. When Rigdon accepted her award, she began to cry as she told about caring for her mother who is ill.
Siskowski, the founder, leader and staunch advocate for helping young people who care for needy relatives, understands those challenges first-hand. As a young teen, she took a primary role in caring for her 84-year-old grandfather. As an adult, she created AACY as a national resource for children who sacrifice their own desires to care for stricken relatives.
“It’s easy to underestimate the number of children who care for an ailing family member,” Siskowski noted. “The only national study was done in 2005 and estimated that more than 1.3 million children ages 8-18 in the United States were caregiving youth. I think the number is much higher.”
Youngsters who provide assistance are also usually hidden, since they keep their cares and worries to themselves. Locally, they are identified in sixth grade through a simple eligibility form.
Support ranges from wheelchair ramps, bathroom safety bars and other vital home modifications. AACY also provides respite for the caregivers, allowing them time to take part in fun activities “and to meet other kids so they’ll know they are not alone,” said Siskowski. “Meeting other kids can also unlock a mountain of stress.”