Trying to hold a family together: Broward woman takes in young sister when their mom dies

At 13, Charisma Robbins has already developed a love for kids. She has a nurturing personality that was borne in part of the challenges she has watched her family members face. Her mother lost custody of her kids. A brother suffered from seizures. But hardest of all was seeing her mother frequently grow ill, ultimately getting two liver transplants, a kidney transplant and blood transfusions.

As her mother’s health deteriorated, Charisma helped her stepfather take care of her. At the peak of her mother’s illness, Charisma was the only one of her mother’s eight children staying with her.

“It was hard physically and mentally, because she would go back and forth to the hospital,” says Charisma.

This year in mid-May, her mother died.

“I’ve been used to seeing her every morning. Now I wake up, I can’t see her. I liked to bond with my mum. I loved my mum,” says Charisma.

Today, the ninth grader lives in Fort Lauderdale with her sister Brenecha Robbins, 24, and Brenecha’s two young children. Her sister works five days a week from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the YMCA and from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. at McDonald’s because, as she puts it, “The bills not gonna pay themselves.”

In fact, on the day of her mother’s funeral, Brenecha’s car caught fire “out of nowhere,” an ominous foreshadowing of the looming financial complications of a future without her mother. Despite her two jobs, Brenecha has a hard time making ends meet as she takes care of her two children and Charisma. She is eager to see her little sister succeed.

She says, “When she finishes school I hope she goes to college. College life is fun so I know she is going to enjoy college. She’ll not have to be stuck working all day like me.”

The sisters get help from Broward Health’s Kinship Cares Initiative, which connects them to healthcare services as well as rounds up additional help for them through partner organizations. The agency also nominated Charisma for help from the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald Wish Book program.

Charisma Robbins (standing up) lives with her sister Brenecha Robbins and her children from left: Jermal Cornwall, 1;  Raniyah Cornwall, 2;  and Amira Johnson, 4, in their apartment in Fort Lauderdale.
Charisma Robbins (standing up) lives with her sister Brenecha Robbins and her children from left: Jermal Cornwall, 1; Raniyah Cornwall, 2; and Amira Johnson, 4, in their apartment in Fort Lauderdale.

Phyllis Harris, a caseworker at the Kinship Cares Initiative, is keen to ensure the family gets what it needs to stay together.

“Research has shown that kids do better when they are in a familiar and loving home versus a strange home, even though it may be a loving home,” says Harris, “I think they are gonna be fine. They’ve learned some lessons in life that some adults don’t learn in a lifetime. You learn it the day you apply it and sometimes you don’t get there. But this family is well on their way. I think they’ll be just fine.”

Charisma’s childhood has been more complicated than most. She is youngest of eight siblings; Brenecha is the second oldest. At one point her mother lost custody of all her children following the loss of a child due to SIDS. She regained custody of Charisma when she was 3 months old and an older brother, Brecorrie. The other children were split up, four living with their aunt, one with their grandmother and one with his father.

That’s also when Charisma began developing her nurturing streak. She remembers Brecorrie getting seizures. As her mother took care of him, Charisma would hold him and speak to him to make sure he did not go to sleep after hitting his head. Today, she enjoys helping to babysit Brenecha’s children.

Brenecha fondly remembers Charisma as a “happy and playful” baby herself and says her two children love her.

When her mother was ill, Charisma supported her on the days she felt down, fixing her food and helping her out of bed. Some nights, Charisma would stay at the hospital with her.

Today, Charisma’s history of caring for family members has driven her to work towards becoming a pediatrician. She loves her biology classes, as well as TV and TikTok dances.

Charisma wakes up at 6 a.m., takes a shower, helps out with her sisters’ children and then heads to school.

Since joining high school this year, she gets to spend more time with another sister, 14-year-old Darlis. Together, they navigate their shared grief at the loss of their mother.

“I don’t like to be emotional around people. So that has been a challenge for me. To keep my composure,” she says. “I don’t really open up about it.”

For Christmas, Charisma would like a laptop. She doesn’t have one and has to borrow Brenecha’s in order to complete her schoolwork. She also wants an iPad, a camera, AirPods and kitchen supplies for the new home her sister moved into three months after her mother’s funeral.

How to Help

To help the more than 180 other nominees who are in need this year:

To donate, use the coupon found in the newspaper or pay securely online through www.MiamiHerald.com/wishbook

For more information, call 305-376-2906 or email Wishbook@MiamiHerald.com

The most requested items are often laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans

Read all Wish Book stories on www.MiamiHerald.com/wishbook

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