We had the good fortune of connecting with Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Connie, can you tell us about how your work has had a meaningful impact? Our nonprofit, the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) is the first and only organization in the US solely dedicated to raising awareness and finding solutions to reduce the negative and enforce the positive ramifications of family caregiving by children and teens. It serves an otherwise unrecognized population of children who sacrifice their academic and personal well-being because of home family caregiving responsibilities. This often includes caring for more than one family member who has a chronic illness, injury, is elderly or who has a disability. The responsibilities range from personal care and assistance with mobility to household tasks, translating, managing medications or medical equipment and providing actual medical care such as tube feeding or suctioning. The stress on them may even be greater as their primary job is to learn; stress interferes with the ability to focus and also can create immune system suppression. They lack an emotional and experiential bank which, when a single parent or grandparent who is raising them becomes ill, without a network of support, they can become overwhelmed and may drop out of school One study of young adults who dropped out of school reported that 22% did so to care for a family member! How does an investment in these children help our greater community? Each time a child drops out of school, their annual earning potential decreases by $10,000 which is compounded by a higher crime rate, teen pregnancy and illness with increased system dependency instead of becoming a healthy and productive adult. The work of AACY has resulted in a six year 98.3% average high school graduation rate among its seniors! Additionally, when supported, many caregiving youth want to enter health care, a labor force that is needed by our country as our population ages.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Problem solving and finding creative solutions is an important strength of mine – am not a big fan of Band-aids! What is now AACY with a budget >$1,000,000 began with a $25,000 grant in 1998 to provide volunteer support services to people who were homebound and caregiving families. This whole nonprofit journey has been one of faith. It seems that all along my career path, I have been prepared for today’s work. I began as a nurse who received a scholarship to Johns Hopkins…that education provided me with a solid understanding of health. My master’s degree from NYU is in Public Administration with a major in Health Administration and my doctorate, earned in 2004, is in Educational Leadership. This knowledge vase has provided the foundation for our work which intersects the systems of healthcare, education and the community. Was it easy? Easier professionally than personally as the trauma I experienced in caregiving for my grandfather impacted my adult life and I made some poor personal choices. So this work is about supporting these kids and hopefully preventing for them some of the suffering I experienced as an adult. There are two huge lessons I have learned along the way: 1) Pay attention to your gut and red flags in unhealthy relationships; learn to say no; and 2) Trust is built on knowing someone is going to do what they say they are going to do and if not and something comes up, as life does happen, expect that person to let you know why – if not, that all important trust begins to erode and without it, it is impossible to have a healthy relationship. What do I want the world to know? That family caregiving by youth for someone who is chronically ill, injured, elderly or disabled, is real and their numbers are growing. These vulnerable kids need to be recognized by the government (there are more caregiving youth than kids who are homeless or in foster care who have government support) so they too will no longer be at risk for under achievement or school drop out and can become healthy, productive adults.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When my best friends visit, we do a range of fun activities, typically outdoors. We play golf, tennis or go to the beach…a fishing trip is also in order! We eat at home, at the club, have subs on the beach and also go out to dinner – two favorite restaurants are Arturo’s and Sapori in Royal Palm Plaza. While there we visit the Garden of Peace and also my star on Boca’s Walk of Recognition.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My shoutout is to my husband, Gary who encouraged me to return to school to obtain my PhD. I did so to have a bigger voice for all family caregivers, never expecting to discover the extent of this population. Although he is retired and our personal lives have been somewhat compromised by my work, he continues to be supportive of it and shares some of the household responsibilities, including making dinner!

Website: www.aacy.org
Instagram: bocacleo
Linkedin: Connie Siskowski; American Association of Caregiving Youth
Twitter: AACYcyp
Facebook: Connie T Siskowski; American Association of Caregiving Youth
Youtube: AACY

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutMiami is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.