FRESNO, CA -- There is a tremendous outpouring of support for a Parlier, California, teenager who is pushing for custody of her two sisters after their mother suddenly died last week.
This is not the vision Zenaida Benito had for her life, less than a week after her 18th birthday.
"I want us to stay together," Benito said. She said there's no decision to be made, she will now raise her sisters, 14-year-old Yobana and 5-month-old Abrielle.
"When they told us she was brain dead, well that's when everything changed," Benito said. Their mom, Irma Pascual, died last Thursday following complications with diabetes.
The 37-year-old field worker avoided the doctor fearful she'd miss work and a paycheck. About two weeks ago she ended up in the hospital and on life support for days.
"I didn't want to let her go," Benito said. "I would cry, you know, because the baby is small. The baby didn't even get to know our mom."
Benito and her sisters are now living with their aunt, uncle and their five children in a tiny two bedroom apartment. Not wanting to burden them anymore Benito is hoping to find a new place for herself and her sisters.
"She can't bring back her mother, but we can support her," said Parlier High School teacher Hazel Lee. "And she can be the mother of these children. She wants to be the mother of these kids; she wants to take that responsibility. She has a lot of love in her heart."
Lee is leading the organized effort to help raise money for Pascual's funeral. They need another $4,000 to even begin making plans.
All Benito wants for her birthday is to bury her mother. "This just happened so quick," she said. "I could remember her the day of my graduation, telling me how proud she was and things like that. And she wanted to reward me with a car."
Benito is sad about the situation but raising her sisters will be a blessing, she said. It'll change her plans a bit, but she won't let it ruin them.
"I'm still going to go to Reedley College but I'm not sure if I'm going to start this fall," she said. "But I will start. I will go. I want to provide the best for my sisters. And be a role model to them."
Parlier Police Chief David Cerda even helped Benito open a fundraising bank account that he says he'll help monitor to make sure money is spent properly and that the girls are not taken advantage of.
Bank of the West Account #040126914 or GoFundMe null
California teen left to bury mother, raise sisters after sudden death