Today we’d like to introduce you to Chrystal Smith.
Hi Chrystal, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in South Central Los Angeles and later moved to the surrounding suburbs, married my high school sweetheart in 2001, and we took the leap of faith to move to Austin in 2006 for a fresh start for our young family. As a child abuse survivor, I have always been passionate about creating opportunities for children and families to break free from generational cycles of adversity. I scraped my way through college to pursue a career in Child Development and Parent Education. And in 2013, after a mission trip to Reynosa Mexico, my husband and I made the decision to become a licensed foster home. We had three young sons who were 11, 9, and 3 years old at the time and we felt called to step into the world of foster care with very little knowledge of what we were signing up for.
During our time fostering, we were placed with an infant baby girl who we had the privilege of adopting 19 months later. Her birth mother also became part of our family and opened our eyes to the painful realities and troubling odds stacked against children who grow up in the foster care system.
In 2016, we started a grass-roots passion project to bridge the gaps between children and families in the trenches of foster care and the local community that was unaware of the needs. Foster Village has since grown to become a nationwide network rallying together around vulnerable children and families, with the shared mission of providing a village of support for the kids in our local communities.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Starting anything from the ground up comes with a variety of challenges (and opportunities). We started with just a 10’x10′ donated storage unit and our crew of young kids to help us haul necessities around. For years the needs outpaced our capacity which often felt overwhelming. When your greatest resource is passion for the mission, though, it’s amazing how much that can fuel the path to success. There have been many days when I have felt as though I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but when I remember the ‘why’ behind what we do, I find renewed strength to power through.
We’ve been impressed with Foster Village Inc., but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Foster parents often feel tired and alone. Most families foster for less than a year, citing burnout and lack of support as the reason they stop. At the same time, 85 percent of people who are not foster parents say they care about vulnerable children and want to help. Foster Village bridges this gap between those caring for children in foster care and those who want to help, meeting practical needs and providing holistic support beyond the system.
We help do this through three main programs:
Equipping Caregivers With Support
When a child is placed with a family, they often arrive with just the clothes on their back. At Foster Village resource centers, families and children can get clothing, new beds and infant gear, toiletries and other basic necessities – completely free, in a trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate home-like environment.
Connecting Families to Each Other
Foster families are often navigating a complex system and challenges that are unique to caring for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and family separation. They need to know they are not alone and need encouragement from others on the same journey they are on. By connecting foster families with other foster families, biological families and trusted resources, families are strengthened and empowered to continue fostering.
Advocating for Change in the System
Foster Village brings dignity to the children and families we serve, understanding the root causes of why a child ends up in the foster care system, facilitating relationships between foster families and biological families and replicating communities of support around the nation. As we care for the caregivers, foster families are sustained and generations of vulnerable children and families are empowered to overcome adversity.
How do you think about luck?
As a Christian, I believe that grace is far more reliable than luck, and grace has certainly carried me through every season. On the flip side, I’ve had my fair share of experiences that felt “unlucky”, but in hindsight it was those moments/failures/losses that have been my greatest learning opportunities and building blocks for compassion and gratitude.