From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
By the time Tyler and Cheyenne Osburn had reached their teen years, they were old souls. Their father, Billy, a guitar player in a local rock band, had died when they were babies. Their mother, Liz, a hairdresser, suffered from seizures and, after being badly burned in a backyard accident in '07, was never the same. The family scraped by on her disability income, and the kids traded off chores. Still, Liz found ways to share joy with her kids - with homemade lasagna and extravagant Christmases and quiet chats in her bedroom. "She had the heart of a lion," Tyler, 19, recalls. "She could do more with nothing than a lot of people can do with something. She tried to give Cheyenne and me the entire world."

That world changed forever when Liz didn't wake up one morning two weeks before Christmas 2011. "I was so scared," says Cheyenne, 17, "of not having a mom, having no one to come home to, having to deal with grown-up things like bills. I felt so alone." Not for long. The people of Lacombe, La., wrapped their arms around the orphaned siblings, and they haven't let go. Years earlier Liz's friends Gwen Babin and Karen Labatut had agreed to be Tyler and Cheyenne's legal guardians. "We never in a million years thought this would happen," says Labatut, 51, a hairdresser who had worked with Liz. They started a rotation with family friend Pam Taylor, taking turns cooking dinner and staying overnight at the teens' house. Soon Jackie Dantin, head of a local nonprofit group, set up a fund (cccno.org) and got the story out to the local media; help poured in. A men's Bible study group maintained their lawn; a pizza-making enthusiast baked their favorite pies; Lakeshore High School, where they were students, paid for prom tuxes and gowns.

After several fund-raisers, the efforts raised $40,000, covering the monthly mortgage, groceries and bills through this summer—keeping Tyler and Cheyenne in their own home and on a steady course. Tyler, who graduated last year, has found sporadic work in construction; Cheyenne, who earned As and Bs, will start commuting to a local college in August. "I never would have thought all these people would have wanted to help so much," Cheyenne says. "It's been amazing."