Within two years, both of MacKenzie Jackson’s parents died – now, the 18-year-old is trying to keep the rest of her family together.
Jackson, from West Fargo, North Dakota, is fighting to be the legal guardian of her two siblings, Meagan, 16, and Spencer, 14, since her dad Cory passed away on Jan. 4 when he was just 42.
While Meagan and Spencer are in foster care, Mackenzie has temporarily put her dream of going to cosmetology school on hold, and is doing everything in her power to get them back.
“I knew the day my dad died that someone had to step up, and that had to be me,” MacKenzie tells PEOPLE. “I know them the best. They’re my responsibility.”
The Jacksons never had it easy.
Their mom, Rebecca, started doing methamphetamine when MacKenzie was a young girl.
“She also had gastric bypass surgery and she got very sick,” MacKenzie says. “Then my dad had kidney failure. They were both not doing well at all.”
In 2012, Rebecca passed away at 39 years old and life as they knew it changed forever. But MacKenzie took on the role as mom and never complained.
“We had to do what we had to do to keep our family together,” she says.
She tried to stay focused on getting good grades in high school, especially in her favorite subject, math. At the same time, she was also in charge of grocery shopping and making sure Meagan and Spencer got to school, doctor’s appointments, friends’ houses and family events.
But most importantly, she wanted to let them know on a daily basis that the one thing they would never lack in their life is love.
“Material things are important, but what I wanted to show them is that feeling of love from your family and being there for them is most important,” she says.
MacKenzie’s best friend, Jennifer Peltier, 19, says she knows she will do a great job being their legal guardian.
“It’s a huge responsibility, but if anyone can do it, it’s MacKenzie,” she says. “She has already been taking care of them for so long. She is just the most caring person you could meet.”
After Rebecca passed away, MacKenzie was constantly scared that something would happen to her dad too, and just two days after he said he had the flu, she found him in his bed not breathing.
“I felt him and he was cold like my mom was when she died,” she says. “I knew that he was gone.”
It was in that moment that she says she knew she had to become Spencer and Meagan’s legal guardian.
“My older family members can become their guardian, but I am definitely giving it a shot first,” she says.
A couple months before Cory passed away, Spencer and Meagan were put into foster care.
“The conditions of my house weren’t good for them to be in and my dad was drinking a lot,” MacKenzie says. “But it was only after my dad died that I knew I was now going to be in charge of getting them back.”
MacKenzie took action fast and called social services to “get the ball rolling,” she says.
She moved out of her house because the memories of her parents dying in the same bedroom that she had to walk by every day was too difficult.
“I want Spencer and Meagan to come back to a new house where we can make new memories,” she says. “I walk into the house now and it’s empty.”
A GoFundMe page, which has raised slightly over $10,000, was created to help them with their bills. Someone who heard about her story came forward and offered to pay her rent for the first year.
“I will be financially responsible for them,” she says. “So every penny counts.”
MacKenzie’s extended family is ready and willing to offer support as well
Her cousin Crystal Wojahn, 34, who only lives about 15 minutes away from MacKenzie, plans on helping her out.
“If she wants a night off to have fun, she knows I will come pick the kids up,” Wojahn says. “We are all going to support her. She deserves to have her siblings. They belong together.”
MacKenzie knows that although she wants to take on this responsibility, she still needs to find time for herself.
“I’m still young. I love spending time with my friends, going to the movies and being on the water,” she says. “Fishing, jet skiing, the boat.”
MacKenzie is going to her hearing on Feb. 19th where she will find out if she has been approved to be their legal guardian.
“I am so nervous,” she says. “But I will get them. I will raise them and know that my parents are by my side in spirit encouraging me to do a great job.”