This summer, a handful of youth in Boynton Beach were 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 to better their community. 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.
The Summer Youth Institute was created by these organizations 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. Family caregiving is the selected health focus of Healthier Boynton Beach, a Healthier Together initiative funded by Palm Healthcare Foundation, Inc. The mission of Healthier Boynton Beach is to inspire, support and improve the lives of family caregivers in Boynton Beach. Many of these family caregivers are youth who are juggling school and a job in addition to caring for a loved one, such as a grandparent or special needs sibling.
Ten Boynton Beach youth, many of them caregivers, were selected to participate in the program on a first come, first served basis. The group came together for the first time on June 26, 2017, marking the beginning of a summer-long journey together that forged strong bonds over shared experiences. The participants spent their first week of the summer at Pathways to Prosperity, an organization committed 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. At both sites, the youth got hands-on learning and job shadowing experience, and a better understanding of the city they live in and job opportunities available to them in the future.
In the final week of the program, the youth 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 and a support system 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. “The kids came up with this idea themselves, because they wanted to continue working together,” Petty explains. “The Youth Empathizers is a support group and also provides a way for the youth to continue to improve their community together.”
Throughout the whole experience, what touched Petty the most was hearing the youth speak on their experiences as caregivers. “They have to struggle at such a young age,” he explains. “But they all shared how taking care of their loved ones has taught them to be responsible and helpful.” It seems as though this group of ten Boynton Beach youth are truly exceptional and wise beyond their years. As recognition for their participation in the program, each received a certificate of completion and a stipend to financially support them and their families.
Petty hopes to continue the Summer Youth Institute in 2018, and would like to double the number of participants. Palm Healthcare Foundation is proud of the good work that Petty and Healthier Boynton Beach are doing to inspire, support and improve the lives of family caregivers in the Boynton Beach community.
Contributed by Vanessa Moss