Arkansas Mom and Her Kids Build Dream Home in 9 Months After Watching YouTube Videos: 'It Seemed Impossible'
"In retrospect I know it sounds insane," Cara Brookins tells PEOPLE
Cara Brookins was emotionally destroyed as her second abusive marriage dissolved. She healed by building her own home — and learned how to do it all from YouTube videos.
In 2007, when the mom of four had to sell the Bryant, Arkansas, home she shared with her soon-to-be ex, she looked for a house to buy. But everything the then-computer programmer analyst could afford was too small. Brookins also felt she needed to do something to glue her family back together. “But I had no idea what that should be,” she says.
So Brookins came up with the idea of building her own home — from scratch. “It felt like, ‘If anyone was in our situation, this is what they would do,’ ” says Brookins, 45. “It didn’t look like this to anyone else and in retrospect I know it sounds insane.”
Brookins bought a one-acre lot for $20,000 and took out a construction loan for about $150,000. And she started watching YouTube — to learn how to build a foundation, construct a wall, run a gas line and install plumbing, among a myriad of other construction how-to’s.
Her children — then ages 2 to 17 — helped throughout to construct the 3,500 square-foot home in nine months. Drew, then 15, helped Brookins create blueprints. With no running water on site, Jada, then 11, used buckets to haul water from a neighbor’s pond to mix with 80-pound bags of concrete to create the mortar used to make the foundation.
“It seemed impossible the whole way through,” says Brookins, who worked while the kids were in school. The schedule was exhausting: After school, Brookins drove her clan to the site five miles away and then built the new home into the night.
YouTube videos back then were grainy, and offered different ways to accomplish a task. Brookins ended up using the part-time help of a firefighter with building experience for some of the heavier tasks, at $25 an hour. “He was a step up from us in knowledge,” she says.
On March 31, 2009, Brookins and her children moved into the five-bedroom home. She named it Inkwell Manor, reflecting her hopes of becoming a writer.
Brookins has since published several middle grade and young adult novels, and her experience of building the house is the subject of her memoir Rise: How a House Built a Family, out January 24.
Building the house enabled Brookins to emerge from her despair. “We were ashamed that this was our best option, to build our own shelter,” says Brookins. “It was not something we were proud of. It ended up being the best thing I could have ever done for myself.
“If I, a 110-pound computer programmer can build a whole house, you can do anything you can set your mind to,” she says. “Set one goal and don’t waiver from it. Find that big thing you want to do, take baby steps, and take the people with who need to heal with you, go on that journey together. There is so much power in that.”