Rachell Runion greets me at her office in business casual dress and black pumps with a chubby baby on her hip. Nine months old, with huge brown eyes, a sparkly lavender dress, and perfectly pink bow lips, Maggie is a smiley, wiggly little girl. She’s eager to crawl back to the playroom where her sister Emma and brother AJ are busy building Legos, drawing pictures, and reading stories with Runion’s wife.
It’s already been a busy morning. As AJ finishes up summer camp, Emma accompanies Runion around town while Cyd Runion cares for the baby—all while managing the renovations of the 1920s Highland Park fixer-upper the family moved into this year.
Is it always like this?
“Yes, there are always a lot of moving parts to our days,” says Rachell, laughing: “Our friends joke and say there should be a reality show called, ‘Running with Rachell’.”
If she moves quickly, it’s because she has a lot of ground to cover. In addition to parenting three children, she’s also working in two cities—Atlanta and now Chicago’s North Shore—as founder, managing broker, and president of TruHaven Homes, a luxury residential property management firm. But efficient by nature, she takes it all in stride.
The decision to relocate to the North Shore, where Runion lived during the latter part of her adolescence and early adulthood, was made to be closer to family and to give the children a better education. The move has also provided the opportunity for Rachell to expand her entrepreneurial approach in property management to the North Shore.
The balancing act between running TruHaven and parenting with Cyd is one Rachell navigates with pragmatic flexibility.
“Our approach to things is unconventional,” she laughs. “I mean, my daughter at 6 years old can show a house better than I can. Some kids play soccer on Saturdays. My kids are driving properties with me, because that’s what my family does.”
Rachell says she always wanted to raise a family with Cyd. Because Rachell’s mother was adopted, and Rachell herself was taken in by her grandparents later in childhood, she hoped to adopt. But Rachell was also familiar with the plight of children who were moved back and forth from one foster home to another, and wanted to do what she could to help those in foster care even before pursuing adoption.
“So with all of that in mind, Cyd and I signed up with the Fulton County (Georgia) Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS) to become foster parents,” she says.
Living in a gothic, Victorian farmhouse they renovated themselves, on three and a half acres of land in southwest Atlanta, the couple equipped two of the home’s bedrooms with bunk beds, and cribs that would allow the family to take in foster-care children—individually, and as sibling groups, up to four children at a time.
“We knew how hard it was for children in foster care to be separated from their brothers and sisters,” she says, “So, this way, we were able to avoid that in our home. It was important to me. I’m Jewish, and this was my mitzvah.”
Over the course of the next eight years, Rachell and Cyd fostered 14 children—seven girls and seven boys, most under the age of 3, and two sibling pairs.
“One of the biggest things fostering taught us is that children are inherently who they are the day they are born,” says Rachell. “As parents, we love our children, we nurture them, and we can help grow the essence of who they are—but we don’t mold them. Nature is so much bigger than we think in determining who a child really is. And as parents, we have to work with that. Although to nurture is also important, I think a lot of people forget the nature piece.”
In addition to the children, the Runion acreage became home to a miniature pony, multiple rescue dogs, pygmy goats, cats, and a flock of chickens. They even had a myriad of other wildlife that regularly visited the property.
“It was quite the crew!” Rachell laughs.
But nearing the end of those years, she says “Our heartstrings were giving out. People used to say to me,‘How do you keep from falling in love with the children while you are fostering them?’ And I’d say, ‘You do fall in love! If you don’t, you’re not doing it right!’”
At this juncture, with the decision to step away from active foster parenting, Rachell focused on growing TruHaven. She started the company in Atlanta in 2010 with $8,000 in personal loans, one property, and the goal to create a business that clients could rely on—that would offer points of difference f rom others in the market.
With many years of experience working in the mortgage industry, and working for other real estate and property management firms, Rachell wanted to create a company that understood the individual home- owner, along with their concerns and fears about becoming a landlord. She also wanted it to be one that could provide them with a friendly, professional, and truly effective real estate experience tailored totheir individual needs.
“For that to be successful, I knew it was important to cultivate both client and employee/contractor relationships,” she says.
In short order, she grew TruHaven into more than 100 properties, and had five employees working for her. (Today the firm has 154 homes in Atlanta, and has just begun to grow its Highland Park presence.)
But in 2011, an unexpected phone call from DFACS changed Rachell’s working status to working mom—for good: “DFACS called us to let us know that one of our former foster children, AJ, was up for adoption. After two years of fostering, now our family became a happy three.”
A few years later, DFACS called again, this time to find out if the Runion family would be able to adopt a prematurely-born baby girl, Emma.
“We had just a few hours to make the decision,” Rachell says. “And of course it was, “Yes!’”
And then, most recently, the opportunity came to privately adopt Maggie.
“The circumstances around each one of our children, and how we came to be a family were unusual,” she says. “But there’s not just one way to do anything; there are many. I believe good things happen when you are willing to jump. Be different. Take chances. Try getting to the goal a different way. All three of my kids have very different stories, different looks, and bloodlines. But they are very bonded. They are a unit. And I think there’s something to learn from that. As parents, everyone wants to plan everything along a certain trajectory. But when you get pregnant, or adopt, you don’t get to pick your human. Your human is who your human is. So as parents we have to be flexible to grow with that. Flexibility— both with my company, and my approach to parenting—has been a very good thing.”
For more information about TruHaven Homes, visit truhavenhomes.com.