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Portrait of a Hero: Connie Siskowski

Published 8:48 AM ET, Mon November 26, 2012
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Connie Siskowski holds an old photograph of her, her brother and their grandfather at the Jersey Shore. Siskowski was in her early teens when her grandfather fell ill and she had to become his primary caregiver. Today, she is helping other young people who have to take care of an ill, disabled or aging family member. David S. Holloway/CNN
Mandy "Mimi" Alvarado walks her brother Isaac Santiago around their neighborhood in Greenacres, Florida. Isaac uses a wheelchair, but his older sister takes him to the park next to their home and around their neighborhood. David S. Holloway/CNN
Siskowski talks to Nate Alvarado, who along with Mimi also helps care for their brother Isaac. Since 2006, Siskowski's nonprofit has provided assistance to more than 550 young caregivers in Palm Beach County, Florida. David S. Holloway/CNN
Mimi feeds Isaac while their mother, Rose Santiago, looks on. Often, Siskowski says, young caregivers find themselves overburdened by the extra responsibility and fall behind in school. They can also feel depressed, anxious and isolated. David S. Holloway/CNN
"No child in the United States should have to drop out of school because of care giving," Siskowski said. "These children suffer silently behind closed doors. ... They don't have the help and the support and the recognition that they need." David S. Holloway/CNN
There are an estimated 10,000 youth caregivers living in Palm Beach County, according to Siskowski's nonprofit, the American Association of Caregiving Youth. David S. Holloway/CNN
The Alvarados are enrolled in Siskowski's program, which reaches out to young caregivers and gives them support. That support can include counseling, tutoring and specialized assistance for a caregiver's unique situation. David S. Holloway/CNN
Mimi waits to greet Isaac as he is lowered down from the bus he rides to school. David S. Holloway/CNN
"(Siskowski) sees these children face their struggles, and she recognizes herself in each of them," photographer David S. Holloway said. "She wants to give these children an easier road to travel. She hopes to provide them with things they might not even know they need." David S. Holloway/CNN
Mimi packs her belongings at the end of her chemistry class at John I. Leonard Medical Sciences Academy. After school, she heads home to help with her brother. David S. Holloway/CNN
When she feels stressed from her responsibilities, Mimi swings in the park next to her home. "The kids don't have a voice," Siskowski said, "so they need somebody to be their voice, to be their advocate." David S. Holloway/CNN
Mimi and her mother, right, celebrate with Siskowski after learning that her group wanted to arrange for a wheelchair ramp to be built at their home. David S. Holloway/CNN
"Connie is an observer who's grown confident from her experiences," photographer Holloway said. "She understands that no act of kindness is ever wasted." David S. Holloway/CNN
"I can only believe that when more people understand about this precious population, they, too, will want to recognize and support them," Siskowski said. David S. Holloway/CNN