A Masontown native’s volunteer work in Uganda has evolved into a youth center named in her honor.
“Although it wasn’t my decision, I was truly humbled and honored by the gesture,’’ said Chrystal Honsaker, 39, co-founder of Chrystal Children’s Center near Kampala.
Honsaker, who helped purchase the building and serves as an administrator, is seeking support for the center, which opened in April 2016 and is now looking to construct a new home.
A 1997 graduate of Albert Gallatin High School, Honsaker earned a bachelor’s degree in animal bio-science and a master’s degree in youth and family education from Penn State University.
Her first trip to Africa took place in 2013 when she vacationed in South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia. But it was a visit to an African orphanage that made Honsaker want to return.
In 2014, Honsaker took a five-week trip to Uganda through Volunteers 2 Uganda, a Christian, community-based organization that helps schools, babies and children’s homes, medical centers, hospitals and other organizations.
Honsaker volunteered as a board-certified behavioral analyst to work with children with autism at an Entebbe center and visited youths she and family sponsored to help with their education. She made unplanned purchases to assist families in need, such as a mattress and pillows for a family who slept on a concrete floor.
“There’s so much need so you keep helping. A lot of people live in extreme poverty. It’s difficult not to do something,’’ Honsaker said in a previous interview.
Honsaker explained education was free but there were all types of school fees. Students had to bring supplies, such as toilet paper, and wear uniforms. A lot of people couldn’t afford it. Honsaker said boarding schools offer better education but families have to pay tuition. Honsaker returned to Masontown but continued to offer support.
In January 2015, Honsaker moved to Honolulu, Hawaii where she became a licensed behavior analyst, working with families of children with autism.
“I’m not involved in direct therapy much anymore, so my role is mainly supervising therapists working with the children and providing consultation to parents and school staff,’’ she said. “In May 2017, I took a leave of absence to do some long-term traveling as well as pursue some other endeavors and focus on the center.’
Honsaker is currently in Vietnam but plans to return to Uganda later this year.
Honsaker has kept in touch with David Kibalama, founder of Volunteers 2 Uganda.
“In addition to the children I was sponsoring, V2U was sponsoring others and the registry for children requiring financial assistance for school was growing,’’ said Honsaker.
“When a child is referred to the organization for school sponsorship, a home visit is typically conducted, and it was through this process that David recognized the need for so many children to have a stable home environment,’’ Honsaker said. “Many of the children were in dangerous living situations, abandoned, abused. So the thought at that time was that if V2U could purchase a facility, they could offer a stable home for children who needed it plus provide their education by hiring teachers at the center.’’
With funds she raised and donations, Honsaker helped purchase a building for what became Chrystal Children’s Center. The facility applied for nonprofit status in Uganda and opened in 2016.
“David and his wife, Marion, laid much of the groundwork for the center, and they do an amazing job keeping things running smoothly. I guess you could say V2U is a partner organization as they continue to facilitate the placement of volunteers at the center,’’ said Honsaker.
The center serves children as young as newborns.
“The children can stay at the center up to age seven, although we’re constantly trying to resettle them with family members or new families in the community,’’ Honsaker said. “If they are still at the center at age seven, they go to a boarding school to finish their education, which the center continues to financially sponsor. The children return to the center on weekends and holidays when school is not in session. They always have a home at the center, but the team is always working to find more permanent placements and many children do become legally adopted.’’
Since the center’s inception, Honsaker said approximately 130 children have received tuition assistance, been re-integrated into a safe environment, or resettled with their families.
Honsaker consults with Kibalama but plans to take on a more direct role once the new center is built. She will set up and direct two autism/special needs classrooms and organize a volunteer program for skilled therapists to work at this and other centers in the surrounding community.
“The work can be intense, emotionally and physically,’’ Honsaker said. “We offer many different services and each situation, child and family is so dynamic and unique. It’s basically problem solving and figuring out the best ways to help as many children as possible with the resources we have, which involves some creativity at times. Because the need is so great and diverse, it makes a successful outcome that much more rewarding.’’
Honsaker noted, “I have always loved connecting with people; specifically thinking about the chain of events that enables two lives to intersect, and the impact they have on each other, not just locally, but as in this case, all over the world.’’
She asked Kibalama and he responded, “The work restores joy in our hearts, especially when a child is reunited with family or when we find a family to adopt them.’’
To meet the increasing need, Honsaker said Chrystal ‘s Children’s Center is collaborating with an international team to devise a long-term sustainability program that includes construction of a new home, rain water collecting system, solar-powered house, poultry business project, subsistence farming program and a craft village.
“My family has been amazing with collecting donations and supporting the center, and have played a major role in its success. Fair View church of the Brethren in Masontown has also financially supported the center and receives monetary or check donations to send if people are unable to donate online,’’ Honsaker noted.
Donations can be made by visiting www.chrystalchildrenscenter.com or sent to Fair View Church of the Brethren, 218 Smithfield Road, Masontown, PA 15461: Africa fund in the memo.
“We’re extremely excited about the future of the center,’’ said Honsaker, “and so thankful for any financial support to help us more forward.’’