Story highlights

Connie Siskowski was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012

Her group supports young people who must provide health care for a loved one

Often, the extra responsibility keeps the children from reaching their potential

Who should be the CNN Hero of the Year? Cast your vote now!

(CNN) —  

Jan: All my life, I tried my best to be a helping hand to people and animals in need, even though what I have done was in the very small way that I could afford. It took a lot of determination and courage to build the first girls school in an area where the girls did not count. Now, with hard work, I have proven to the men of seven villages surrounding the school that this is the best thing that’s happened for their daughters to get educated.

Through her nonprofit, the American Association of Caregiving Youth, Siskowski has provided assistance to more than 550 child caregivers in Palm Beach County, Florida.

CNN asked Siskowski for her thoughts on being chosen as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012.

CNN: What was your reaction when you found out that you’d been selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Connie Siskowski: It was awesome. I was so excited. We’ve really been hoping that would happen.

This meaningful opportunity will help us reach even more children and families, and get more support for the kids. … It means the possibility of raising more awareness and being able to achieve our ultimate goal that no child should have to drop out of school because of caregiving responsibilities.

CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean to the American Association of Caregiving Youth?

Siskowski: I hope it will help people understand that the kids are a part of the health care delivery system and that they should be recognized.

Connie Siskowski
PHOTO: Adam Alphin for CNN
Connie Siskowski's nonprofit helps young caregivers such as Nickolaus Dent, left.

We’re not advocating that children should do this or be in this position, but they are. So we want to make it as safe as possible and arm them with the knowledge base that they need.

(This recognition) will help us continue the path that we are taking, to provide continued and expanded services locally and to replicate our work in other parts of the United States.

Right now we have affiliates with signed agreements in four states, and we’re talking with others. The model is to partner with existing nonprofits who would like to reach this population of children and who’d like to make a difference in the lives of these kids, who are in situations through no fault of their own.

CNN: How will you use the $50,000 award that you receive for being selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Siskowski: It will be solely used by our organization to fulfill its mission.

We provide professional support to the children in school, out of school and at home. We provide tutoring (and) respite to give kids and families a break. We’ve provided computer support. We do a home visit to link families to resources. We provide sponsored activities and transportation to and from them. We have a camp.

So all these things work together to strengthen the child, to give them more confidence and the skills that they need to go on to become healthy, productive adults.

We have lots in the hopper. We have so much to do; we’ve only scratched the surface.

CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Siskowski: It’s really a joy to see the lives of children and their families be transformed, and for them to know that someone out there cares about them. That it doesn’t take a whole lot to make a difference. And everyone can do it.

The kids don’t have a voice, so they need somebody to be their voice, to be their advocate. … When these children receive the recognition they so deserve, along with the academic and skills support they need, they are able to remain in school and have confidence in themselves and what they are doing so they can become healthy, productive adults.

Plus, having the chance to participate in fun activities allows them to experience a bit of childhood otherwise lost.

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