Chrystal Smith: ” Let your light shine and let your passion drive you toward the places that need you and your unique gifts most”

Your unique story and your unique experience matters! You have gifts and a perspective of this world that can be used for the greater good. There are certain people and parts of this world in need of a certain kind of healing connection that only YOU can bring. Let your light shine and let your […]

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Your unique story and your unique experience matters! You have gifts and a perspective of this world that can be used for the greater good. There are certain people and parts of this world in need of a certain kind of healing connection that only YOU can bring. Let your light shine and let your passion drive you toward the places that need you and your unique gifts most.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic I had the pleasure of interviewing Chrystal Smith, Founder, and CEO, Foster Village.

Foster Village is the passion project of a family who knows first hand the value of having a village of support while in the trenches of foster care. The Smiths became a licensed foster home in early 2014 and later had the privilege of adopting their precious daughter who came to their home at 8 months old. As fate would have it, they also welcomed their daughter’s birth mother into the family- a strong young woman who aged out of foster care herself, inspiring a lot of what we do through Foster Village.

Chrystal is trained and certified in child development and trauma-informed care of children who have been through adverse childhood experiences and is herself a survivor of all 10 identified ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). She applies this personal and professional experience to all aspects of her role as CEO of Foster Village Inc which now has 7 affiliated locations nationwide led by experienced foster parents and social workers. She has had the opportunity to advocate for children and families in the child welfare system at the state capitol and stakeholder summits and sits on multiple executive advisory committees dedicated to child and family welfare reform.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

My “growing up” story seems to still be continuing into my 40s (ha!) but my early years have certainly paved the way toward my current work and passions. I grew up in southern CA and the majority of my early childhood was quite literally, “Straight Outta Compton.” We lived in a small rundown apartment with bars on the windows and chaos and brokenness both inside and outside of those walls. I can check off all 10 of 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and while the scars of that will never go away, the empathy and compassion that it has led to in my life is 100% what drives me.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Chronicles of Narnia really solidified my love for books and learning. For me, having a healthy “escape” through books got me through a lot of hard seasons growing up.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” -CS Lewis

When I reflect on the many trials I have walked through in my life, I can see how each one was preparing me for the work that I have the honor of doing today.

OK, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

The non-profit that I lead, Foster Village, has always been a “front lines” organization for children and families involved in the child welfare system. Due to COVID-19, we are now navigating this work with an added layer of crises and helping families who are functioning in 24/7 survival mode. The children we serve are coming from heartbreaking circumstances of abuse and neglect and their caregivers (licensed foster parents, relative caregivers, and parents who are working to overcome addiction and mental health issues) have the challenge of nurturing these children to a place of healing and restoration. Our goal is to help break cycles of adversity and when adversity is amplified by the many stressors of a pandemic, the needs are that much more intense.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

I am often more drawn to the humbly quiet but steadfast and enduring types of heroes. Think Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Fred Rogers, and those who didn’t necessarily draw a lot of fanfare flying in and out of trouble with capes on, but rather rolled up his or her sleeves and did the work alongside those in need every step of the way.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Brave: It takes a lot of courage to step into the arena and fight for others in need.
  2. Steadfast: Every hero I can think of is long-suffering in their pursuit of justice.
  3. Compassionate: The root definition is “to suffer with.” I believe true heroes are willing to sit with others in their pain.
  4. Gritty: Being a hero takes some grit and willingness to get uncomfortable.
  5. Gifted listener: We can’t really tell where the real needs are unless we’re truly listening.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I think at the heart of true heroism there is always compassion and willingness to suffer with the vulnerable in an effort to carry some of their burdens and bring light to our shared humanity. So perhaps it’s this compassion that drives people toward heroism, or perhaps in our attempts to be brave and heroic, we develop compassion…or maybe a little of both.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

We were a licensed foster family in 2014 and our experience taking in emergency placements, fostering, and adopting our daughter in 2015 really opened our eyes to the critical needs in the foster care system. I saw so many gaps and so many missed opportunities and troubling statistics as a result and it kept me up at night. So in 2016 I decided to do something about it and started Foster Village as a way to bridge the gaps between our children in crisis and a caring community with a desire and willingness to help.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My heroes are the overcomers in this world who show us the power of breaking cycles and pushing through life’s trials. My mom who overcame domestic violence, my daughter who continues to rise above her early trauma, my brothers who are good men despite every excuse not to be, and all of those who draw a line in the sand and say, “It stops here.”

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

To quote FDR, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I am most frightened by our primitive responses to perceived threats and how we often turn to unhealthy and damaging responses to fear. The pandemic is of course so very scary and fear is a natural response, but what we do with that fear and how we choose to show up for each other is so critical.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

The silver lining of fear is that we have a choice in how we respond to it. Do we channel that fear into something destructive or something productive? Do we come alongside our neighbors and show them that they are not alone in their fear or do we fall prey to scarcity mentality and believe that it’s every man for himself? My hope is that we choose to rise above the fear, find ways to unite and lift each other up, and make the best out of the hard circumstances in front of us.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

I have loved watching the creatives lead us through this. Artists and visionaries showing us how to find beauty in the hard and mundane. And leaders showing us how to pivot and make lemonade out of lemons. The disappointing behaviors have been the online fighting and tearing each other down based on our differing responses to fear and stress.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Never in my lifetime have I seen something that has reached every human on the planet the way COVID-19 has. While our lives are all so very different, we fundamentally all want the same things: love, health, and connection. COVID-19 has shown me how important these things are in every corner of the world.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

As a society, I would like to see more togetherness and less divisiveness. The increasing divisiveness in our country has been painful to witness and clearly causes more harm than good. My prayer is that this shared experience of a global pandemic can be something that supernaturally unifies us in healing ways.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Your unique story and your unique experience matters! You have gifts and a perspective of this world that can be used for the greater good. There are certain people and parts of this world in need of a certain kind of healing connection that only YOU can bring. Let your light shine and let your passion drive you toward the places that need you and your unique gifts most.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope that’s the direction of our mission with Foster Village! I hope that it is a continuous movement of awareness, advocating, connection, and bridging the gaps for our most vulnerable children. If our “village of support” plays a role in breaking cycles, bringing dignity to a broken system, and creating beauty from ashes then I will consider it mission accomplished.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to glean some Brené Brown wisdom! She has such an important perspective to share relating to vulnerability and social justice and still seems like someone who would just be fun to hang out with. Plus, I wouldn’t mind bringing some famous Austin BBQ down to you in Houston for our lunch date if that helps sweeten the deal, Brené 🙂

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on Instagram at @fostervillageaustin or on the web at and

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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