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HAVEN:
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: CAROLYN REBUFFEL FLANNERY AND MAKE IT HOME
30 November 2021
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For those transitioning out of homelessness or aging out of the foster care system, even basic household goods are unaffordable. More than just a table to study at or a bed to sleep in, we offer people pride of place.


I met Carolyn through a group of like-minded designers in the East Bay. We gathered regularly to share our thoughts, experiences and philosophies on design, business and life. It was the beginning of a long and close friendship. Carolyn started Make It Home in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, leaving the practice of interior design after 25 years in business, to do something close to her heart. I’m proud to play a part in Make it Home as a member of the advisory board.

The original idea for Make it Home germinated years ago, when Carolyn’s daughter’s school partnered with a homeless prenatal program to provide respite care for foster parents. This experience gave her a first-hand look at the challenges and needs inherent in the foster care system. One of those challenges was the needs of teens as they age out of the system, entering the world with little or nothing to their name. Stretched thin, social workers simply don’t have the time or resources to help these young adults get a start in the world.

We are fighting furniture poverty while giving furnishings new life and keeping them out of landfills.


Carolyn yearned to do something that would enable her to have a positive impact. In her years of practicing interior design and owning an antique store, she knew that there were furnishings going to waste that could be of use to those in need. Experience and opportunity came together, and she saw clearly how she could help—helping families transition out of homelessness and young adults transition out of foster care.

The seeds of her idea became Make it Home. Taking a pragmatic approach, she gave herself one year to see if the idea would work. Within just a few months, it was clear that it did. In her first three months, the organization was able to serve 20 families and individuals in need. In the following 10 months that number jumped to 255.

From her years in design, Carolyn had developed an extensive network of designers, stagers and showrooms. These were among the first people she approached for gently used donations. When Carolyn began her efforts in October 2020, hardly anyone was taking used furniture, opening up an opportunity for her to establish Make it Home as a non-profit furniture bank—one of only a small handful in California.

Make it Home has served 275 families since its inception just a little over a year ago. Located in a warehouse in San Rafael, in space generously donated by the owners of the Northgate Mall, Make it Home is run by a dedicated team of volunteers that receives, sorts, repairs, refurbishes and distributes gently-used donations. Carolyn calls herself “the McGyver of furniture.”



What’s the one thing you love most about what you do?

I’m motivated by repurposing these furnishings and helping people in the process. In our society, we use and dispose of too much stuff. I don’t always believe that new is better―so many things can be given a new life.


Who—or what—inspires you??

Social workers inspire me, foster kids inspire me. These kids are our most vulnerable population. They spur me on.


What’s the single best business or creative advice you’ve ever received?

One of my mentors runs the furniture bank in Santa Clara. He taught me about systems and how to run things, which gave me a great start. He also gave me good advice on what I should accept and what I should not accept in terms of donations. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s important to have a standard so we don’t drown in repairs.


If you weren’t running Make it Home, what would you be up to?

I would volunteer for someone else, helping foster kids age out of the system effectively.


How do you love spending time outside of work?

I love to read, and I love to hike.


What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you??

I’m pretty down to earth, and I’m pretty much an open book. Before I started Make it Home, I was an interior designer and an antiques dealer. I also worked as a restaurant manager, which some people might not know.


Last book you read?

I just finished The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris.



Favorite quote?

“Home is where the heart is..”
―Pliny the Elder


Where do you live and what are your two “top” things you love about it?

I live in the Dominian College neighborhood of San Rafael. It is beautiful, near the college with plenty of open space. One of the things I love best is my swimming pool. It brings me joy.

 


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