The young girl worked hard to keep her siblings out of foster care and took on more responsibility than any other girl her age would have had to. But her struggles did not go unnoticed and some kind souls from the community stepped up to support her.
It can feel extremely unfair to have both your parents taken away from you when you're just a child. Feeling lost and alone, it overwhelms you with unbearable grief. But while this young girl was dealing with the loss of her parents, she also had to step up and fight to keep the rest of her family together.
If losing her parents wasn't sad enough, Samantha Rodriguez had to work hard not to lose her little brother and sisters to foster care. Being the oldest of six siblings, the entire family's responsibility was thrust upon her after both her father and mother died from cancer just five years apart. They first lost their mother to cervical cancer and then three years later, they lost their father who struggled with Lymphoma, according to the Daily Mail.
Samantha was forced to grow up emotionally faster than any teenager is expected to. Doing the best that she could, she shouldered her five younger siblings, who are now between the ages of five to 17. Today, the 20-year-old works at a restaurant to meet the needs of her siblings, according to the GoFundMe page set up by wellwishers. Most importantly, she managed to make sure they don't go to the state's foster-care system and kept the family together.
"I knew what I had to do," Samantha said about having to fill the void that her parents had no choice but to leave behind. "I learned so much from my mom. I was like her sidekick. I learned what it meant to raise a family."
With her brother and sisters by her side, she moved to Orange County, Florida since that's where their grandmother lives. But without enough resources and nothing to prepare her to raise five children when she herself is so young, Samantha had to take on more than other people her age usually had to. "It can be tough knowing when to be like a parent and when to be their sister," she said, according to CNN. "Sometimes it can feel like I'm alone."
Despite her situation being incredibly tough, she worked hard to take care of her five siblings. For about three years, she has wonderfully managed to feed them, get them enough clothes, and make sure that they all get to school every single day. Seeing just how the family was closely-knit together and how hard Samantha was working, the community around also stepped forward to support the family.
The Orange County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit "adopted" them and gave the kids some much-needed joy last Christmas. While they no longer had their parents to leave presents under the Christmas tree, the kind people from the department gave them a room full of presents, let them explore their helicopters, and gave them a number of reasons to smile.
The Rodriguez kids lost both parents to cancer in recent years. Samantha, 20, has taken on the role of caregiver to her five younger siblings. The kids thought they were visiting the OCSO Aviation Unit for a tour. Instead, they received a Christmas none of us will ever forget! pic.twitter.com/1Bs4w6PQob— Orange County Sheriff's Office (@OrangeCoSheriff) December 24, 2018
"We focused on clothes but also toys," Lieutenant Antorrio Wright said at the time. "We wanted to give them a good Christmas."
Overjoyed by the gesture, Samantha said, "We took pictures with the officers and the helicopter," Rodriguez said. "Then they said, 'Let's go into this room for milk and cookies.'"
Months later, the kind people around them once again came through and this time, they surprised Samantha with the one thing that could make their lives a whole lot easier. She was invited to the suburban Orlando sheriff's office but she wasn't told why.
"I thought it was just a meeting," she said. "He asked me to come into this room with all the people we had met at Christmas."
When she got there, she was called up on stage where the picture of a Nissan Versa was revealed to her.
"It's yours," one of the deputies told her.
It was a moment where she felt so much of her worry release instantly. The officers and a whole group of anonymous donors were able to pool in their efforts to make this happen for the family.
"When they told me the car is for us, I remember thinking, 'They just took away all these worries and stresses.'" she said. "It was such a big weight off my shoulder and will help so much."
ICYMI: Here's the story on the anonymous donors who stepped up to buy a new car for Samantha Rodriguez, who at 20 is raising her five younger siblings after her parents' death. Nice story here, too:https://t.co/iNCmq7vSh7 pic.twitter.com/m6B0rCEJcy— Orange County Sheriff's Office (@OrangeCoSheriff) April 8, 2019
She also added, "It gave me so much inspiration to do better for other people," she said. "Other amazing people came into our life like this and they didn't have to. We are so grateful."
There may be nothing that will make Samantha and her younger siblings ever stop missing their parents every now and then. But with the help of the people around her, they don't have to feel alone anymore.
"It really didn't sink in until a couple of days after," she said about the new sedan in her name. "Everything I plan now for the kids is so much easier. I don't have to call for a ride. I'm very grateful for it. All these people reminded me I'm not alone."