Updated: Jan 26
I often sit back and think about all the fun I had as a kid growing up. We would come home from school and as soon as we got off the elevator you could smell my mother’s pot of food cooking. We had a routine, which was change your clothes, eat, do your homework and your assigned chores then we could go play and have fun. If we went outdoors to play, when the street lights came on we were expected to knoc on the door to be let back in. The treat of the night was waiting for my father to bring home dessert, which was usually ice cream. He did this every day. I guess you figured out my favorite dessert?
One thing I will always cherish is leaving NYC every summer and going to South Carolina to enjoy the country air. My mother would put us on the Greyhound bus the day after school closed and we would return a few days before school began. I would have such a difficult time getting my feet into my school shoes because I never wore shoes in the summer. We played all day long, with each other and the chickens, cows and pigs. There were no street lights but the darkness and mosquitoes were a good incentive to go indoors.
Never once, did I think about wanting to be an adult or having to take on adult responsibilities like caring for a sick, ill or elderly family member. My heart goes out to youth caregivers. Youth caregivers have taken on the roles and responsibilities of being a caregiver while also struggling to balance their academic, social and childhood experiences.
Imagine, rushing home from school because your mother has to go to work and you have to watch your grandmother who has Alzheimer’s. You cannot concentrate enough to do your homework or study because you have to make sure she does not walk out of the house or turn on the stove. You begin to stress out because you have a midterm test the next day. Your mother arrives home at midnight and you attempt to study for the test but fa asleep.
Caregivers Outreach Mentorship Empowerment ( C.O.M.E.) saw a need and an opportunity to take on the challenge to advocate for the needs and challenges of youth caregivers with the inception of the SHARKS Program in 2015. The program is heading into its 5th year and is based out of PS/IS 83 in the Bronx. The program provides youth caregivers with monthly support group sessions followed by respite activities. The program provides a break from their caregivers’ responsibilities, an opportunity to be with other youth caregivers and express their thoughts, needs, and to be a kid. The program also fosters family time activities with our Annual Purple Day/Walk to End Alzheimer’s’ and Family Game Night. In addition, referrals are made to community organizations to assist the family as a whole.
Help us continue to make a difference in the lives of youth caregivers. Do you know a youth caregiver? Consider nominating them to be recognized at our 13th Annual Caregivers Award Celebration on November 16, 2019. To learn more about the SHARKS, make a donation or become a volunteer visit our website at SHARKSyouth.org.
Written by: Diane Cooper, RN GNP M.Ed ACGM