The eldest sibling of the Rodriguez family was only 17 years old when her mother and father died from cancer. Now 21, she's spent the last few years providing for her four little sisters and her little brother as no one else in the family has the means to take them in.
Their mother, Lisa Smith, died from cervical cancer in 2013 leaving their father Alexander Rodriguez to take care of the family. However, he fell ill with what turned out to be lymphoma. He died three years later.
Now, Destiny, 7; Bella, 9; Michael, 12; Brenda, 15; and Milagros, 16, look to their eldest sister to not only provide for them, but be their role model as well.
"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," Rodriguez said. "They're vulnerable and they need an adult, so I became their adult."
When they're home in Orlando, Florida, Samantha is responsible for daily tasks, such as providing meals, taking her siblings to school, doctor's appointments, sports practices and helping with homework. While handling the kids and household, she also goes to college part-time and waitresses.
Despite the hardships she and her family have faced, she's taken it on with a positive outlook.
"I get a lot of that strength from my mother," Rodriguez 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," she added. "That's what I wanted to do for the kids."
Milagros Rodriguez said her older sister "gave up basically her life to take care of us" and that "Sam is a mom and a dad to us."
"I try to give them the love that they need and the support they need, and I try to do it for two," said Samantha Rodriguez.
Samantha Rodriguez says she tries to set the best example possible for her siblings, including some lessons she learned from her parents.
"They showed us not to take anything for granted. That's something I try to teach the kids," Samantha Rodriguez said.
"At the end of the day, the material things don't matter. What's given can be taken away so fast," she added. "The only thing that really matters is family and love and support."
Samantha Rodriguez helped take care of her parents when they fell ill, even dropping out of school to find the time. After their deaths, she returned to school to earn her high school diploma, saying she wanted to show her siblings the importance of an education.
"I didn't know people who graduated high school or went college, and I didn't have that direction so it was hard for me," Samantha said. "When I realized that I wanted the kids to finish and that I wanted them to be successful, I was like I need to give them that example and show them."
"This is what makes me, me," Samantha Rodriguez said 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."
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