MacKenzie Jackson's mom died in 2012 at age 39; her dad died last month at 42. And now the North Dakota 18-year-old is putting the future she planned for—cosmetology school—on hold, replacing it with a new goal: to become the legal guardian of her sister Meagan, 16, and brother Spencer, 14. The Jackson siblings had a difficult upbringing: Mom Rebecca started doing meth when MacKenzie was little, both parents were in poor health, and a couple months before dad Cory died, Meagan and Spencer 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 tells People. "But it was only after my dad died that I knew I was now going to be in charge of getting them back." She had already been taking care of her siblings since their mother's death, taking on responsibilities like grocery shopping and making sure the younger kids made it to school, doctor's appointments, and other things, all while keeping her own grades up.
After her dad's death, she called social services and began working to become their legal guardian; she also moved out of the house they had been living in. "I want Spencer and Meagan to come back to a new house where we can make new memories," she explains. She adds that while an older relative could also become the teens' guardian, "I know them the best. They're my responsibility." And, she tells Valley News Live, "They just really want to come home with me, they just really want their sister, that's all they want." But she will have support from other family members, including a 34-year-old cousin who lives nearby and says, "She deserves to have her siblings. They belong together." A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $12,000 to help the family, and KFGO reports that a benefit is being held for the family today at a local church. Jackson will find out whether she was approved at a Feb. 19 hearing. (New Hampshire authorities say 9-year-old twins were left home alone—for four months.)