In the summer of 2017, a group of Boynton Beach youth who are caregivers for their family members was given the rare and valuable opportunity to come together and learn from some of the city’s most dedicated coaches and employees, all while learning more about themselves and their potential.

Healthier Boynton Beach, in partnership with Pathways to Prosperity, Inc., the City of Boynton Beach Utilities Department, Genesis Community Health, Community Caring Center, and American Association of Caregiving Youth created the first-ever Summer Youth Institute to help students between the ages of 15 and 18 in Boynton Beach learn more about family caregiving and develop the life skills needed for social, professional and personal growth.

Ten youth, many of them direct caregivers who are juggling school and a job in addition to caring for a loved one, such as a grandparent or special needs sibling, were selected to participate in the program on a first come, first served basis.

Started on June 26, 2017, the participants spent their first week of the summer at Pathways to Prosperity, a community organization committed and dedicated to strengthening the community by improving outcomes for children and families through education and social services. Throughout the week, participants learned about professionalism, college preparation, social media etiquette, money management, and resume writing. They also learned about various program providers throughout the community that could aid their neighbors, friends and family.

For the following four weeks of the program, the youth split between two learning sites: The City of Boynton Beach Utilities and Boynton Beach Parks and Recreation, where they got hands-on learning and job shadowing experience, and a better understanding of the city they live in and all the job opportunities available to them someday.

In the final week of the program, they came together to reflect on the past weeks and discuss their experiences as family caregivers.

Ricky Petty, Healthier Boynton Beach project director and co-organizer of the Summer Youth Institute, remembers that week as the most powerful of them all.

“It was incredible to see the kids develop comradery as well as a support system and help one another by the end of the experience,” he reflects. “In the first week, everyone was quiet and hesitant to share their experiences as caregivers. But, by the end of the Institute, they had formed strong bonds and relationships. They were eager to learn from one another and share some of the things they were experiencing in their families.”

The youth bonded so well that they decided to form their own group called the “Youth Empathizers” and continue meeting on a monthly basis. It’s turned into a support group and also provides a way for the youth to continue to improve their community together.

Ricky added: “The kids came up with this idea and purpose themselves, because they wanted to continue working together and make a positive impact in the community.”