Most 20-year-olds are just starting to get a taste of the grown-up world, but for one woman in Orange County, Florida, adulthood started long before.
After losing both parents to cancer, 20-year-old Samantha Rodriguez raises her five younger siblings, doing whatever it takes to provide them with what they need every day. She keeps them clothed, fed, and gets them to school all without a car to get around. Her dedication has not gone unnoticed by the community.
Recently, Samantha was invited to the Orlando sheriffs office where a deputy showed her a photo of a brand new Nissan Versa.
âItâs yours,â he said
The 20-year-old was shocked and overwhelmed by the gesture.
âWhen they told me the car is for us, I remember thinking, âThey just took away all these worries and stresses.'â she told CNN. âIt was such a big weight off my shoulder and will help so much.â
Her siblings, now ages five to 17, would be in foster care were it not for Samantha stepping up to keep the family together.
âI knew what I had to do,â Rodriguez told CNN. âI learned so much from my mom. I was like her sidekick. I learned what it meant to raise a family.â
Samantha and her siblings moved to Orange County, Florida to be with their grandmother, where the 20-year-old was forced to grow up fast.
âIt can be tough knowing when to be like a parent and when to be their sister,â she said. âSometimes it can feel like Iâm alone.â
Samanthaâs new car isnât the only way the sheriffâs office has stepped in to help the Rodriguez family. Last December, the Orange County Sheriffâs Departmentâs aviation department invited the kids to visit.
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
The family was given tours of the unitâs helicopters and surprise Christmas presents.
âWe focused on clothes but also toys,â Lieutenant Antorrio Wright told CNN. âWe wanted to give them a good Christmas.â
Wright recalled that the six siblings had arrived that day in an Uber because they didnât have a car.
This inspired the gift of the new sedan. After surprising Samantha with her new ride, Wright helped her get car insurance and took her to pick up the vehicle from the dealership.
âAnything I can do or we can do with the Sheriffâs blessing we will. Iâm proud of my unit,â Wright said. âItâs heartwarming. It wasnât just me â it was the unit, and all these people came together to help.â
Samantha was beyond grateful.
âIt really didnât sink in until a couple of days after,â she said. âEverything I plan now for the kids is so much easier. I donât have to call for a ride. Iâm very grateful for it. All these people reminded me Iâm not alone.â
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
The 20-year-old says the generosity shown to her family has inspired her to help others.
âIt gave me so much inspiration to do better for other people,â she said. âOther amazing people came into our life like this and they didnât have to. We are so grateful.â