Meet the 21-year-old caring for her five siblings after the death of her parents: “I matured into an adult”

Even as she mourned the loss of her parents, the adolescent was acutely aware that her siblings were at risk of entering the state’s foster-care system without an adult to care for them.

Samantha Rodriguez was only 17 years old when both parents of her and her five younger siblings died of cancer. Even as she grieved for them, the teen was acutely aware that without an adult to care for them, her siblings risked being placed in the state’s foster-care system. Determined not to violate her father’s promise to her mother, the young woman resolved to do everything possible to preserve the family unit. Even if it meant she had to put her life on hold to be the family’s responsible adult.

Rodriguez, who is now 21 years old, has spent the past decade supporting her four younger sisters and brother. She provided them with food, clothing, and regular school attendance almost entirely on her own, as no other family member could afford to take them in. The inspiring young woman told The View, “My reality [was] I’m 17 but these are my brothers and sisters, and when I looked at them, I knew that they’re children,” the inspiring young woman told The View. “They’re vulnerable and they need an adult, so I became their adult.” Rodgriguez’s younger siblings, Destiny (7), Bella (8), Michael (12), Brenda (15), and Milagros (16), viewed her as a parent, sister, and role model due to the manner in which she has kept the family together in the face of tragedy.

According to ABC News, Lisa Smith, the mother of the Rodriguez siblings, died of cervical cancer in 2013. Although their father, Alexander Rodriguez, promised to keep the children together, happy, and healthy, he was diagnosed with lymphoma a few years after the death of the family matriarch. He passed away in three years. “I knew what I had to do,” Rodriquez told CNN about her decision to raise her brothers and sisters. “I learned so much from my mom. I was like her sidekick. I learned what it meant to raise a family.”

She moved with her siblings to Orange County, Florida, where their grandmother resided, and quit school to care for them. Rodriguez decided to return to school and balance her studies with her part-time job as a waitress in order to set an example for her sisters and brother shortly after settling the family into their new home and lifestyle. “I can’t tell them to be successful in school if I wasn’t. So that’s when I decided to go back,” she explained. “When I [graduated] the kids were very proud of me and they came to my graduation and it was amazing.”

Even now, while attending college part-time and working as a waitress, Rodriguez is responsible for all daily responsibilities, including providing meals, transporting her siblings to school, doctor’s appointments, sports practices, and assisting with homework. She stated, “I get a lot of that strength from my mother,” she said. “I spent a lot of time with her and I admired her so much. When we lost her, I knew that I wanted to be just like her in every way. That’s what I wanted to do for the kids.”

The young woman explained that she strives to set the best possible example for her siblings by adhering to the values instilled in her by her parents. “They showed us not to take anything for granted. That’s something I try to teach the kids. At the end of the day, the material things don’t matter. What’s given can be taken away so fast. The only thing that really matters is family and love and support,” she said. “This is what makes me, me,” Rodriguez said of caring for her siblings at such a young age, “It makes me so happy to be with them and to be there for them. It’s very enjoyable for me.”