When Cara Brookins’ second abusive marriage ended, she was emotionally wrecked. She recovered by constructing her own home, which she learned to accomplish using YouTube videos.
When the mother of four had to sell the Bryant, Arkansas, home she shared with her soon-to-be-ex in 2007, she went on the hunt for a new home. Everything the computer programmer analyst could afford at the time, however, was too small.
Brookins also felt compelled to do something to reunite her family. “However,” she admits, “I had no notion what that should be.”
As a result, Brookins devised the plan to construct her own home from the ground up. “It felt like, ‘If anyone were in our situation, they would do this,’” Brookins, 45, says. “No one else saw it like this, and in retrospect, I realize it sounds insane.”
Brookins paid $20,000 for a one-acre land and a construction loan of roughly $150,000. And she began watching YouTube videos to learn how to lay a foundation, build a wall, run a gas line, and install plumbing, among other building techniques.
Her children, who were then ages 2 to 17, assisted her throughout the nine-month construction of the 3,500-square-foot home. Drew, who was 15 at the time, assisted Brookins in the creation of plans.
Because there was no running water on-site, Jada, then 11, used buckets to transport water from a neighbor’s pond, which she mixed with 80-pound bags of concrete to form the foundation mortar.
Brookins, who worked while the kids were in school, recalls, “It seemed impossible the whole way through.” Brookins took her family to the five-mile-away construction site after school and worked on the new home late into the night.
Back then, YouTube videos were blurry and offered multiple ways to complete a task. For some of the more difficult chores, Brookins hired a part-time firefighter with building experience for $25 an hour. “In terms of knowledge, he was a step ahead of us,” she recalls.
Brookins and her children moved into the five-bedroom house on March 31, 2009. She dubbed it Inkwell Manor in honor of her ambition to be a writer.
Brookins has subsequently published many middle grades and young adult novels, as well as a memoir, Rise: How a House Built a Family, which will be released on January 24.
Brookins was able to get out of her funk by building the house. “We were mortified that building our own shelter was our best alternative,” Brookins says. “It wasn’t anything we were really proud of.” It turned out to be the most beneficial thing I could have done for myself.
“If I, a 110-pound computer programmer, can build an entire house,” she asserts, “you can do anything you set your mind to.” “Decide on a single aim and stick to it. Find that large thing you want to do, take tiny steps toward it, and bring along others who need to heal with you on the journey. There’s a lot of power in that.”