Samantha Rodriguez spent three years taking care of her five younger siblings without a car.

By Meghan Overdeep
April 19, 2019
YouTube/OrangeCoSheriffFL

For almost three years, 20-year-old Samantha Rodriguez has been taking care of her five younger siblings. She's kept them clothed, fed, and in school, and she’s managed it all without a car.

Until now.

When she was invited to the Orange County Sheriff's Office outside Orlando earlier this month, she was confused. When they asked her to come up on stage, a deputy unveiled a picture of a new Nissan Versa. “It’s yours,” he said.

"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.”

Rodriquez lost both her mother and father to cancer in the past five years. When it looked like her siblings, now ages five to 17, might end up in Florida’s foster-care system, she stepped up.

"I knew what I had to do," Rodriquez recalled to CNN. "I learned so much from my mom. I was like her sidekick. I learned what it meant to raise a family."

So, she moved with her siblings to Orange County, Florida, so they could be closer to their grandmother. Even with her help, the siblings struggled.

"It can be tough knowing when to be like a parent and when to be their sister," Samantha said. "Sometimes it can feel like I'm alone."

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Last December, the Orange County Sheriff's Department's aviation unit got word of the Rodriguez siblings’ plight and invited them to the station for a visit. After taking photos with one of the unit’s helicopters, they surprised the kids with a room full of Christmas presents. But there was something about their visit that stood out to Lieutenant Antorrio Wright: the Rodriguez family had arrived via Uber.

The sheriff's department shared a video of the Christmas surprise on social media. In no time people were asking how they could help. In the months that followed, several anonymous donors reached out to the sheriff’s office, and together, they bought the family a car. The Orange County Sheriff's Office presented it to Samantha on April 4.

“You don’t know how much this means to us and it’s such a big help, really,” Samantha said when she realized the car was hers. “Doing everything on my own is very hard but I’m so glad to have people like you guys in my life.”

Wright told CNN that this generosity won't be a one-time thing.

"Anything I can do, or we can do with the Sheriff's blessing we will. I'm proud of my unit," he said. "It's heartwarming. It wasn't just me—it was the unit, and all these people came together to help."

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