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In December 2007, Cara Brookins was a 36-year-old computer programmer working full- time and taking care of her four young kids (ages 2, 11, 15, 17). From the outside, she looked like any other mom but personally she had just closed the door on an unsafe marriage and was preparing to rebuild her life.
After buying an acre of land in Bryant, Ark. and taking out a $ 150k loan, Cara and her four kids did something amazing … they rolled up their sleeves and started building their own home with the help of YouTube videos. The videos they watched on YouTube equipped them with the information they needed to make their big dream a reality. They watched videos to learn everything from how to build a solid foundation and construct countertops to even how to do their own plumbing. By September 2008–after nine months of working 20-hour days–Cara and her kids had finished their dream home. We spoke with Cara about finding hope, the power of YouTube, and why she chose to share her story:
Q: Take us back to the moment you decided to build your own house … what sparked the idea initially?
Cara: I had left a domestic violence situation with my four kids and we were really emotionally destroyed. All the advice I found for improving my life talked about baby steps and small goals. I couldn’t see how just resolving to get dressed in the morning was going to get me anywhere. We needed a safe place to live, and I was determined to do something big. So building a house felt like the most natural solution in the world.
Q: Why did you turn to YouTube?
Cara: We had always had a DIY mindset and we’d used YouTube to make our own jewelry and art projects. So we instantly focused on YouTube as the place to also learn how to set a foundation block or how to frame a window. I also researched energy efficient building ideas on YouTube. YouTube was really our go-to destination for the information we needed throughout the process.
Q: How did your family react when you told them what you were planning to do?
Cara: My parents thought I was absolutely nuts. They tried to talk me out of it and that shocked me. It seemed like such an obvious and perfect solution. Of course once they saw I was going to build it anyhow—yes, they already knew I was a very stubborn girl—they supported me in every way, even showing up on the job site to work.
Q: How did you and your family use YouTube throughout the process?
Cara: We used multiple videos for each project to learn multiple ways to do each thing, like frame a window or run a sewer line. And we tried to understand why each thing was done a certain way rather than just how to do it. Because we were watching at home on a computer (no smartphones!) and would have to remember everything to make it work the next day on the job site.
Q: Was there ever a point where you looked at the construction around you and thought “what have I gotten myself into?!”
Cara: From the day we broke ground, I thought this every single day until we moved in! It was an overwhelming number of decisions and amount of work. But I was the only adult to pull all the kids together and I had to play it confident and cool the whole time. I had to make the decisions and plans and then be the cheerleader. It was emotionally exhausting, but of course incredibly rewarding too.
Q: For anyone out there who may want to learn how to do something but doesn’t know where to start or thinks they can’t do it, what would you tell them?
Cara: Never stop with the phrase, “I don’t know how to do that.” Always add, “YET!” There are no limits to what you can accomplish if you truly want it. And of course that’s because if you want it badly enough you’ll put in a solid effort and endless hours of hard work. Approach each project with steady determination. I was a small computer programmer and an author. If I can build a house with my kids, there is no limit to what other people might accomplish.
Q: Why did you decide to write a book about your journey and what do you hope people take from reading it?
Cara: I never intended to write a book about the house when we were building it. I was pretty ashamed that my decisions had put us in this place, where our sanest option was to build our own shelter. Fiction writing was my big focus at the time. But after we finished, I knew I had to tell our story, not because I wanted other people to look at what we’d done but because I wanted them to imagine the big things they could build with their life. It took me six years to figure out how to write the book in the right away. I had dozens of versions before “Rise” sold. Even then there was a big fear over how people would react and what they would focus on in the story. It’s such a vulnerable time of our lives to share. But we’ve had so much support from across the entire world, and best of all the message people are receiving is that they really can do anything they dream of if they put in enough hard work.
Q: How did this experience impact your kids and your family?
Cara: My kids were so weak and small when we started this project. All our energy went toward survival with no energy left for setting goals or dreaming of a big future. After we built the house we each came away with the sense that absolutely anything was possible. Our dreams are ridiculous, crazy things and we don’t doubt for one second that we’ll achieve them.
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