She spent her childhood moving from school to school and home to home. She had her first child at 14 and is now a mother of nine. But that has not stopped Santana Lee from becoming a great mom who is devoting her life to helping others.
Lee, 33, admits she did not have much of a childhood. Still nurturing comes naturally as she plays with her 10-month-old daughter, the youngest of Lee's children. She has six biological kids and three adopted cousins.
"I always tell people my life is a walking testimony," Lee said.
"People are always saying I would have never thought you had so many kids. You're always so happy. It's because my spirit is always aligned with God."
Santana gave birth to her first child at 14.
Her mom struggled with substance abuse, and Santana lived in what's called kindship. That's when a child moves from one family member to another. Lee had to get used to different homes and schools. But Lee viewed her mom's frailties with compassion.
"By me educating myself on mental illness and drug addiction, I understand that wasn't even her, so how can I blame her. I don't hold her at fault for that."
Lee's primary stability as a child was her grandmother. But she got too sick to care for Santana when she was 12.
'We always knew we could go back to Grandma. when you snatched Grandma away it was like I walked into the world on my own," Lee said.
But she stresses the blessings, not the negatives.
"I never slept outside. I never was harmed by any adults ... and that says a lot. I grew up with kids that had way worse."
"All I can do is take what I didn't like for my childhood and make it better for my children." — Santana Lee
That's why this young mother has lobbied hard on behalf of children. She's fought for legislation to help kids in the foster system. She left her full-time job and founded "All4Kidz."
It is a non-profit organization to support kids in foster care. Her advice to those with early challenges? "Try to do some soul searching. Do some purging of your own personal trauma. Then you can be free."
She teaches her kids discipline, self respect, self love, and most of all she listens.
"All I can do is take what I didn't like for my childhood and make it better for my children."
And Santana Lee is doing just that with her passion — giving her children and dozens of others a foundation to flourish.
"It only takes one seed planted to change a whole life, and it's my responsibility to make sure that seed is going to be up to me to see that seed is going to be valuable."