What Home Means to Me

December 4, 2019
by Caroline Blakely, President and CEO at Rebuilding Together National

Earlier this year, I was asked by one of my staff members why I decided to join Rebuilding Together. As most would probably respond, I spoke of the mission and the neighbors we help.

As I have reflected on this question and on what a safe and healthy home means to me, I have thought more about my life and my family. The success of this organization, and to help everyone have a safe home, is very personal to me.

I come from a very large family—I am the second of seven children. I absolutely thrive in crowds. I get my energy from other people--talking, learning, arguing, sharing. I learned early the power of joining with others and working together to get things done--you had to in order to survive the challenges of a big family.

I also learned to love the circus, the chaotic nature of our large family gatherings. Home always meant celebrations of some sort, but there was one major event every year–it was a mandatory attendance obligation--everyone had to show up for Christmas dinner and we could bring anyone and everyone. So, this holiday tradition could have as many as 60 people in attendance in my parents’ family home. Unfortunately, my mother enjoyed watching each gift being unwrapped–so this gathering went on forever into the night. I loved every minute of the laughter and craziness of it.

With large families, you go through many joys, many jobs, many dreams and many losses together. These passages could not have been made without the help of each member of my family. One day about 12 years ago, I was working at my desk and got a call. My mother told me to get home as soon as possible. Six of us children showed up within a few hours. We were divided into two teams–one was sent to help my father and one group went to help my sister. They were both diagnosed with two types of cancer on the same day at two different hospitals. After months of carpooling for their joint appointments for chemo and radiation, my father survived, but my sister did not. Later, my brother-in-law, my god-daughter, my brother, my sister-in-law and finally my husband all received cancer news–today only my brother is still with us. The stability of my parents’ home and my family got me through these difficult times.

Now my children are learning this power of home. My mother passed away last year, and the tradition of Christmas dinner is now my responsibility. So, my home is now the center; the community must continue through the efforts of myself, my kids and their spouses.

The reason I share this part of my life with you is to open the door on my story of home and why I am passionate about our mission—repairing homes, revitalizing communities, rebuilding lives. So, why did I decide to join Rebuilding Together?

We have the power of jointly working toward a goal, in our case safe homes and communities for everyone.

We know, just as I learned in my home, that the sum is more than its parts when we lean in together. We can remain strong against obstacles and achieve great impact by staying close and working together.

Everyone should have a memory of home, of connection to family and community, of closeness and of support. Everyone should have a story, even if it is about a mother who insisted on watching every gift get individually unwrapped.