BOCA RATON, Fla. - Giving shots, cleaning catheters, and monitoring medical equipment. Caring for a sick, aging parent can be physically and emotionally draining. But imagine balancing those full-time duties with homework, classes and tests? There are more than 1.3 million child caregivers in the United States.
While most 7-year-olds were playing house, Annmarie Lent was trying to manage hers.
"I couldn't get into any clubs because I had to come home and take care of her," said Lent. "I had like no social life."
A car accident and stroke left her mother, Linda, partially paralyzed -- forcing Lent to care for her and her sick sister.
"I asked like why would God do this to us, and why would he put the responsibilities on me," said Lent.
These are the families Connie Siskowski had in mind when she founded the Caregiving Youth Project.
"The government started with support. For family caregivers, they only looked at adults, and I think it was through ignorance," said Siskowski, President/Founder of the American Association of Caregiving Youth.
At 11, Siskowski began caring for her sick grandfather.
"I was the one who found him dead at 2:00 in the morning I was 13," she explained.
Siskowski says the first step is letting kids know they're not alone. The project offers in-home help and classes at school. It also makes teachers more aware of the student's situation. Through camps and trips, caregivers are given a chance to be care-free.
"And so a little bit can really make a difference," she said.
Now, the cooking skills lent learned at age 7 are paying off. The high school senior is now preparing for culinary school.
"God puts trials in your life, so it makes you stronger as a person," Lent said.
The project also provides families with practical resources ranging from home computers to clean water systems. Eligible kids receive support from sixth grade until graduation. Where Siskowski is in Boca Raton, Florida, she says there are more than 10,000 child caregivers. Since 2006, the program has provided support to more than 550 kids in her area. The program is completely funded by grants and donations.
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