RICHMOND, Va. -- Twenty-one year old Shante Dundee is madly in love with her five-month old daughter, Shyanne. Dundee, who aged out of Virginia's foster care system when she turned 18, is determined to give Shyanne a better childhood than the one she experienced. Wednesday, Dundee received a surprise gift that will help open the "next chapter" for her family.
Currently, Virginia has one of the highest rates of kids aging out of the foster care system when they turn 18. With no permanent family to support them, many teens find themselves either homeless or in jail within the first year on their own, studies show.
Dundee says her foster care experience was a nightmare, a foster mom once stole money from her and a foster sister once beat her up, but Dundee said aging out of the system landed her on the streets.
"So I aged out, homeless, on the street, with nothing, with no one, nobody to call to say 'I need help,'" Dundee said. "That's why a lot of people who age out of foster care end up in jail, end up homeless."
Fortunately for Dundee, a passionate support group helped her get on her feet. She has a job at local non-profit Virginia's Kids Belong that helps her support Shyanee. It was through that job that Dundee got new furniture for her apartment since it was basically a "storage unit" for baby stuff and the only place to sit was on her bed.
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie donated all the furniture in his Richmond apartment to Dundee when his campaign ended.
"He wanted to donate it to somebody who would not only really need it but really appreciate it," Dundee said.
To this point, Dundee said one of the biggest factors holding her back was transportation. Without a car and limited access to the bus, Dundee was relying on rides from others or taxis to get around the city. While pregnant with Shyanne, Dundee would walk from her more than a mile from her apartment to the Central Virginia food bank to get fresh groceries.
"I would feel like the next chapter of my life would start," Dundee said Wednesday about a getting a vehicle.
Pastor Stephen Poore and Center Church of Richmond were working to raise money to get Dundee a car. Wednesday morning on the Northside, CBS 6 cameras were there when the church surprised Dundee with a Ford Escape, complete with a bow on top.
"Oh my gosh! Do you see this guys! It's so great!" exclaimed Dundee, who joyful and tearfully hugged the church members and foster care advocates who organized the surprise.
Even before getting the vehicle she so desperately needed, Dundee said she feels confident she can provide Shyanne with a great life. She even wants to save up money to start a college fund for her infant daughter.
Foster care advocates said Dundee's success story proves that kids who age out of foster care can do great things when they get support. Even small gestures can help, advocates said.
You can learn more about how to help teens who age out of foster care by visiting Virginia's Kids Belong's website.