Connie Siskowski

President/founder, American Association of Caregiving Youth

Background: Educated at Johns Hopkins and New York University, Siskowski’s background is broad—but it always focused on helping people. Hospice, home health, nursing home care; she’s done them all. Last spring, Siskowski, 65, was recognized as a CNN Hero—that is, an “everyday hero who changes the world.” The group she founded helps children deal with the pressures of caring for chronically or fatally ill loved ones.

How she is making a difference: Siskowski was an 11-year-old schoolgirl when she found herself caring for her sick grandfather. “I don’t think anyone else in my family really had the caregiving heart,” she says. While she loved her grandfather and wanted to be there for him, the experience left a lasting impression. After all, she was the one who found him dead at 2 in the morning when she took him his meds. As a young adult, Siskowski chose health care as her profession from the get-go. She never forgot those formative years. Today, Siskowski helps the hidden population of caregiving youth; children who care for a sick parent or sibling or grandparent and often face those challenges alone. Started in 2006 at Boca Raton Community Middle School, AACY last year helped 500 children with everything from finding social services to homework tutoring to getting a day off just to be a kid. “We work with them so they can walk through this happier and stronger and not go through what I did,” she says.

What the future holds: For Siskowski, it’s not good enough that she’s reaching hundreds of families in Florida. The nation is her oyster, and she knows it. “Our ultimate goal is that no child in the United States should have to drop out of school to provide care for a family member,” she says. AACY is currently working on adding chapters in four states, and there’s been early discussion about two more. For Siskowski, that means only 43 states to go.