After the end of her second abusive marriage, Cara Brookins was left emotionally broken. She got back on her feet by constructing a home for herself, a skill she picked up through online tutorials.
The single mother of four started seeking for a new home in 2007 when she was evicted from the house she shared with her soon-to-be ex in Bryant, Arkansas.
The analyst programmer’s current budget only allowed for a too-small computer. To bring peace to her own family, Brookins also felt compelled to take action. She says, “However, I had no idea what that should be.”
Therefore, Brookins devised a plan to construct her own residence.
“No one else viewed it this way, and in retrospect, it sounds absurd.”
Brookins spent $20,000 on a one acre piece of land and borrowed $150,000 for a construction loan.
She also started watching videos on YouTube to learn how to lay a concrete slab, frame a wall, connect a gas line, and put in a plumbing system.
All nine months while she was building the 3,500 square foot home, her children, aged 2 through 17, pitched in to help.
At age 15, Drew assisted Brookins in the planning process.
Because there was no running water on the property, Jada, then 11 years old, used buckets to transport water from a neighbor’s pond, which she then mixed with 80-pound sacks of concrete to create the foundation mortar.
“It seemed impossible the whole way through,” Brookins, who worked while the kids were at school, recalls.
After school, Brookins and her family drove the five miles to the building site, where they toiled until far into the night.
Back in the day, YouTube videos were pixelated and there were always multiple ways to accomplish the same goal.
To assist with the more challenging chores, Brookins paid $25 per hour to a part-time firefighter with construction experience. He was more knowledgeable than the rest of us, she reflects.
At midnight on March 31, 2009, Brookins and her children settled into their new five-bedroom home. She dubbed it Inkwell Manor to reflect her ambitions as a writer.
Several novels for young adults and middle-grade readers by Brookins, as well as her memoir Rise: How a House Built a Family, will be released on January 24.
By working on the house, Brookins was able to pull herself out of her funk. Brookins continues, “We were horrified that constructing our own shelter was our only option.”
“It wasn’t anything we were really proud of. It ended up being the best thing I could have done for myself.”
“If I can build a complete house as a 110-pound computer programmer,” she says, “you can achieve anything you set your mind to.”
“Set a single goal and stick to it. Find that big thing you want to do, take baby steps toward it, and bring people who need to heal along for the ride. That holds a lot of power.”
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