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.
“It’s yours,” he said
The 20-year-old was shocked and overwhelmed by the gesture.
“When they told me the car is for us, I remember thinking, ‘They just took away all these worries and stresses.'” she told CNN. “It was such a big weight off my shoulder and will help so much.”
Her siblings, now ages five to 17, would be in foster care were it not for Samantha stepping up to keep the family together.
“I knew what I had to do,” Rodriguez told CNN. “I learned so much from my mom. I was like her sidekick. I learned what it meant to raise a family.”
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.
“It can be tough knowing when to be like a parent and when to be their sister,” she said. “Sometimes it can feel like I’m alone.”
Samantha’s new car isn’t the only way the sheriff’s office has stepped in to help the Rodriguez family. Last December, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s 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 unit’s helicopters and surprise Christmas presents.
“We focused on clothes but also toys,” Lieutenant Antorrio Wright told CNN. “We wanted to give them a good Christmas.”
Wright recalled that the six siblings had arrived that day in an Uber because they didn’t 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.
“Anything I can do or we can do with the Sheriff’s blessing we will. I’m proud of my unit,” Wright said. “It’s heartwarming. It wasn’t just me — it was the unit, and all these people came together to help.”
Samantha was beyond grateful.
“It really didn’t sink in until a couple of days after,” she said. “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.”
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.
“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.”
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