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Riley HS grad, full-time college student raising sister after mother’s death

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 5:56 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - When Ashley Simmons talks about her mother, Francesca Merritt, there is no past tense.

“Oh, my mom. She’s such a character! She is a lot like me,” described Simmons.

It’s not quickly apparent in her conversation with 16 News Now that Simmons’ mother, Francesca, passed away June 11th after a lengthy battle with breast cancer.

“I’m just trying to plan a funeral and move out of the house and find a new apartment in D.C. for me and my sister to live. It’s more so about me not doing, [not] knowing if I’m doing this right. And then, you know, not being able to ask my mom if I am. So that’s the main struggle,” Simmons explained.

The 2019 Riley High School valedictorian and Dean’s List chemistry major at Howard University in Washington D.C. will now raise her 16-year-old sister following the death of their mother. The two sisters will live together in Maryland while their 13-year-old sister will move from South Bend to her father’s home in Alabama.

“It’s different. Because when I’m at school, they always know I’m going to come back. You know, this time, we’re kind of like, like, our homes are in separate places,” she said.

During this transition and having to juggle a lot, Ashley’s taking a page from her mom, an Army veteran.

“She really taught me to just worry about it as it comes and to, you know, just believe that it will all work out, just have faith it’ll all work out,” Ashley said.

...like staying in college at Howard and raising her sister, who is in high school.

“I owe it to [my mom] to make sure that my sister does well and to make sure that my other sister does well, because by the time she’s in high school, we graduate already, so it’s gonna work out,” said Ashley.

Her best friends at Howard University created a GoFundMe page to help Ashley with expenses as she provides for herself and her sisters while still attending college. Ashley plans to attend pharmacy school and obtain her PharmD along with a MBA.

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