Chrystal Smith created Foster Village with one thought in mind—to give the foster community in Austin a village of support, of people who get it, of people who are present. Now, two years later, Foster Village has become a haven for both children and adults, a space where you can feel loved, supported, and most importantly, seen. With a background in child development and experience in teaching parent-education courses, Chrystal uses her skills to teach, encourage, and walk alongside foster parents throughout their journey.
Growing up in a traumatic, abusive home as a child, instilled in Chrystal the desire to fight for her children so that they would not live through the same experience, but rather one of the exact opposite. Chrystal says that she, “has always been drawn to how we can break the cycle [of abuse] for families and breaking the cycle in her own family is definitely what [she] wants her family’s legacy to be”.
After a family mission trip to Mexico and lots of thought and prayer, Chrystal and her husband decided to become foster parents. They got their first phone call and shortly after, their first placement arrived. A traumatized baby, screaming in her car seat came to her home. When Chrystal reached in to get her out of the car, she saw a lipstick kiss on the baby’s cheek. Immediately, a new world was opened in Chrystal’s life. She realized how heavy this situation was—there are children everywhere being taken from their parents. Foster care is a broken solution to a broken problem, and if you are able, it is an incredible opportunity to serve these birth families by parenting their children while they strive to better themselves and their lives so that their child doesn’t have to be in the foster care system. Chyrstal’s experience with fostering and adopting their daughter showed their family that foster care is not a clear cut issue, there are so many layers that people don’t recognize upon first glance. You don’t have to be a superhero to foster, you just have to have the heart, the passion, and the grit.
FOSTER VILLAGE AUSTIN
A story of how a foster parent saw a need and chose to do something about it. Chrystal Smith shares her story, her struggles, and how you can join the movement right in your own backyard.
In the moments when you’re feeling overworked, what keeps you going?
That’s kind of the gift for me in this, I knew that my passion was kids and breaking cycles of abuse. It was a fire in me that wasn’t going to go away. I didn’t know how it would work in terms of a career, maybe just raising my kids to experience a childhood of not having that as part of their story. So getting to do this outside of my home and finding ways to lift up and encourage other families who are maybe at a breaking point or on the verge of saying they can’t do it anymore, keeps me going. I definitely think God keeps me going with the passion of being able to come alongside families who are in the trenches.
The first couple of years, it was definitely a family mission and still is! My husband does a lot, he’s our Board President, and he’s very involved. My two oldest boys help out a lot with some of the more physical, heavy lifting stuff, and my two little ones are here helping with sorting and cleaning and delivering at all of our events. So, its’ very much a family mission and that’s the way we’ve explained it to our kids, that it’s mommy’s job but we were called to love our neighbors and this is how we choose to do it as a family.
Who has been a key voice of wisdom for you?
Definitely, Sherri, who was on your podcast, a foster mom who has become my dearest friend. She has been a steadfast encourager throughout our whole fostering journey, and their stories of reunification have given me so much hope and perspective on what it could look like. She has definitely been the person I look to as far as ‘what’s the big picture goal here’. Their story is beauty from ashes. I would say she is for sure not only my dear friend, but a mentor for perspective and obedience and hope.
What would you say to others thinking about starting something like Foster Village?
From a practical standpoint, do your due diligence and make sure that something out there doesn’t already exist that you could come alongside and support. I would also say to be okay with saying no. Sometimes you have to say no because you can’t meet all the needs. So, I guess picking your lane would be a better way to phrase that. Pick your lane and what needs you can fill and cannot fill and be obedient with that. And focus!
How do you overcome the sheer magnitude of needs in the community?
We get contacted quite a bit, usually about once a week, we get an email or a call from a group outside of Texas who loves the concept and wants to replicate our model in their city. Initially, we didn’t have capacity and it was a lot of “no sorry, but good luck”, but we had one group in Charlotte, NC, that was really persistent. It was a group of foster moms and one of them came out to Austin to visit and they felt strongly that it had to be Foster Village. Around the same time we brought on a board member who is a nonprofit attorney and all the pieces I was most concerned about in terms of how to navigate something like that came together. So we flew out to Charlotte and now this group of women have launched the first Foster Village out of state affiliate! They launched in June and it’s doing awesome, we’re adding another location in Waco, so that’s kind of our big picture vision right now. To create this in other areas where the need is great and how we can replicate this model in areas that need it most!
You mentioned that before you started in foster care, you kept saying no. Why do you think so many people’s first response is that they don’t want to do it? Why do you think our society’s perception of foster care is ‘absolutely not’?
We only hear in the news the horror stories about foster care. At Foster Village we’re really careful about sharing statistics, because they are important but also can paint a picture of these kids in a light that limits their potential and the hope that we can give them. There’s a lot to be said about giving foster families a voice and allowing them to be the ones presenting the information because they experience it and they get it. There are some hard parts for sure, but it’s worth it. And that’s the consensus from pretty much every single person we’ve talked with.
It sounds like Foster Village has some exciting things in store! I’d love to hear more about where you’re at and where you see this going?
This expansion was never part of the initial vision. I would say within the last month or so I’ve really been able to see this growth and how incredible it can be. We’ve been coming up with documents in terms of the legal stuff, branding, marketing and volunteering. Once we have this package, we can offer it to those who are interested in recreating Foster Village. We would work alongside them with how to get it started and we’ll train them. We want to make sure that the general mission stays the same, but the needs are different in each state and the laws are set up differently in each state. I would love to see a multi-use resource center like Foster Village wherever it’s needed! Austin is one of the most resourced areas for foster families, and the needs are still beyond what can be met. So to think about that, makes me know that in other areas it’s going to be even more so. The majority of people who reach out to us wanting to start it are people who are foster parents. Which we encourage!
Where do you see hope?
I would say definitely in the foster parents. It’s always going to be a broken system because it’s broken families and trauma. I think having folks who are stepping into foster care feeling equipped and supported will make a huge impact, and those who have the grit and the longevity of knowing that it’s going to be a wild ride but they’re willing to make the sacrifices necessary, these people give me hope.