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Local charity helps youth caregivers in Palm Beach County

School program helps youth caregivers in Palm Beach County (WPEC)

Children taking on oversized roles.

Right now, more than 1.4 million children between ages 8 and 18 are caring for an aging, sick or disabled loved one.

CBS12 spoke with a local high school student who cares for three of his family members.

The 15-year-old said it’s a challenge balancing his schoolwork and caregiving responsibilities at home.

He said he wouldn't be able to do it if it weren't for a unique charity that helps people just like him.

Jonathan Gutiérrez looks like an average teenager.

He plays football, is a big brother and goes to high school at Olympic Heights High School.

But behind closed doors, this teen acts more like an adult.

“I help her go to the bathroom, I help her get in bed," Gutiérrez said. "I make sure she doesn't fall in the shower. I help her get dressed."

Gutiérrez takes care of his mother, Jennifer Gutiérrez, who is battling multiple sclerosis, his grandmother who has predementia and his younger brother Jacob, who has a cranial nerve disorder.

Meanwhile, his father works two jobs to support the family.

“Without Jonathan, this house couldn't survive,” Jennifer Gutiérrez said.

“I do it because it helps out the family. I do it because I have to do it,” Jonathan Gutiérrez said.

When he is not taking care of them, he’s constantly thinking about it.

“What’s the hardest part of your day?”

“Thinking about my mom when I am at school,” Jonathan Gutiérrez said.

“ What do you think about?”

“I think about if she falls, who is going to be there to help her,” Jonathan Gutiérrez said.

“He is just my angel,” Jennifer Gutiérrez said.

Jonathan is one of 632 students in 25 Palm Beach County Schools who have been identified as a youth caregiver, according to a non-profit called American Association for Caregiving Youths.

While at school, the students participate in the Caregiving Youth Project.

“It helps me learn what other people are going through,” Jonathan Gutiérrez said.

The program is funded by the non-profit located in Boca Raton.

“We provide tutoring. We have a pool of funds for that. We give the kids a break to have time to be a kid,” Connie Siskowski said.

For Jonathan Gutiérrez’s family, the program has been life changing.

“Without them, I would be visiting my son at his grave. I guarantee that,” Jennifer Gutiérrez said.

Siskowski said right now there is no legislation that supports this hidden population of youth caregivers.

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