Samantha Rodriguez was only 17-years-old when she and her five younger siblings lost both their parents to cancer. Even as she mourned them, the teen was vividly aware of the fact that without an adult to look after them, her siblings were in danger of heading to the state’s foster-care system. Determined not to break her dad’s promise to her mother, the young woman decided to do everything in her power to keep the family together. Even if it meant putting her life on hold to be the adult in the family.
Rodriguez, who’s now 21, has spent the last few years providing for her four little sisters and brother. She kept them fed, clothed, and attending school regularly, almost entirely by herself as no one else in the family has the means to take them in. “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 (9), Michael (12), Brenda (15), and Milagros (16), found in her a parent, sister, and role model in the way she’s held the family together after tragedy threatened to tear them apart.
According to ABC News, the Rodriguez siblings’ mother, Lisa Smith, died from cervical cancer in 2013. Although their father Alexander Rodriguez promised to keep the kids together, happy, and healthy, a few years after the family matriarch’s death, he too fell ill with what turned out to be lymphoma. He died three years later. “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 lived and dropped out of school to take care of her siblings. A little while after getting the family settled into their new home and life, Rodriguez decided to return to school and juggle her studies with her part-time job as a waitress to set an example for her sisters and brother. “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, as she goes to college part-time and waitresses, Rodrigues takes care of all daily tasks, including providing meals, taking her siblings to school, doctor’s appointments, sports practices, and helping with homework. “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 tries to set the best example possible for her siblings by following the lessons she learned from 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.”