2012: That’s the first year the Ruggaber family opened their home and invited someone else to stay in their spare basement room. Their resident? A friend from their undergraduate days who had discerned out of a cloistered religious community. As he prepared to move to a large city, he was seeking a place of transition that would ease him into his next season of life.
The opportunity came to them and they responded, the couple shared.
The following year, in 2013, their second resident found her way to the family. A recent college graduate looking for temporary housing before getting married — her year of AmeriCorps service having limited her housing budget, making it challenging to find a place to live. The Ruggaber residence proved the perfect fit. Coming from a large family, she felt right at home with the Ruggaber’s four children under the age of five.
Since then, the South Bend family has continued to prayerfully open their home to friends in need of a temporary residence.
For the Ruggabers, living in community was nothing new. They served as hall directors at Holy Cross College for three years, living with their children in a small apartment in an apartment-style dorm. Because of that experience, Amelia shared, “we felt like we could provide the community our friends needed, while maintaining healthy boundaries for ourselves and our kids.”
Welcoming others into their home meant welcoming them to a new level of intimacy with their family life, however. “One has to be prepared for the relationship to change, because you will be seeing them in a lot of different, more intimate ways, and they will be seeing you,” she said. “No matter how great you are at boundaries, this is part of living together, and you have to embrace it.”
This altered level of intimacy applies both to the Ruggaber family and their guests. For example, resident No. 2 would make herself a bowl of quick-cooking oatmeal topped with brown sugar for breakfast nearly every morning. Anna, the Ruggabers’ then 2-year-old daughter, would promptly abandon her breakfast cereal and also want to eat oatmeal. So, nearly every morning, they ended up beginning their days over a bowl of oatmeal.
Having guests in the home has, overall, positively impacted their kids. Amelia said that, “They love the adventure of a new person — seeing how different people do the same things and how they talk about their lives. They also have learned to respect other people’s space and privacy, even while sharing a home.”
As for future residents, well, Amelia and Tim take things one opportunity at a time. They do not advertise their home, and the family’s time between residents ranges from a couple months to a couple years.
Jumping into the home of a family is not for everyone, and the Ruggabers are very intentional about being entirely open and honest before they invite someone into their home. One of the first questions they ask any potential roommate is what experience and expectations they have with kids. The second question is about how good they are at dealing with loud noises, toys and scruffy spaces.
Sometimes the couple are surprised with how things work out, such as when a college sophomore without much experience with kids or community wanted to stay with them. He stayed during his summer internship, had a great attitude and was a wonderful addition to their home life, they said.
Amelia shared, “The kids are always a little sad when a community member moves on, but the ability to connect with new people with new talents and stories has made them so much more curious, conversational and open to community.”
Community — This is the central value around which this living situation is focused. Most of those who make their way to the Ruggaber home could have found another living situation for a cheap cost. People long for community, though, and Amelia shared, “I am happy that we can share that with them — that there are people in the world who are very happy to have a group of children pepper them with questions as soon as they come home, and that this actually makes them happy. This makes us happy too, when we can love our neighbor just in who we are at that moment. Right now, we are in the stage of eclectic family life, but we can still be of service and of love in that.”
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