Single Mother of 4 Builds a House With the Help of YouTube Tutorials After Leaving Traumatic Past

"To watch your children raising the walls of a house," Cara Brookins explained, "those were the moments that were really rewarding."

A single mother of four proved no project was too big as she led her family in building a home from the ground up, using nothing but YouTube tutorials and the occasional piece of neighborly advice. 

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Cara Brookins, 45, of Little Rock, Arkansas, explained that when she and her children started on the project in 2008, they were looking for a way to move on from a traumatic past.

"My kids and I had been through a really tough domestic violence situation," she told "When we left, we were pretty beaten down, destroyed. We needed something big, and we needed a place to live. We needed some kind of action after so long feeling powerless."

For the Brookins family, that project was building a house.

The one catch was that none of them, including her four kids — aged 2, 11, 15 and 17 at the time — had any experience in a do-it-yourself project of that magnitude.

"Those really early days felt the most hopeless to me," she admitted. "I don't think there was any part we felt confident we could finish."

But they took it each day at a time.

Brookins started by taking out a construction loan from the bank for $130,000 to go toward supplies, and purchasing an empty, 1-acre plot of land for $20,000. 

Then the family took to the internet, looking up instructions on Google and memorizing YouTube tutorials on the many steps involved in putting together a 3,500-square-foot house with five bedrooms and a three-car garage.

"We didn't know how to do a foundation, or how to lay a concrete block, so it was just one step at a time," she said. "We would Google several different ways people around the country were making foundations, and then we would go back to the job site and figure out how to do that."

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From putting up windows to running the gas line and installing plumbing, she did it all.

When she couldn't get a permit to finish tasks herself, such as electrical and HVAC, or when she felt it was getting dangerous, the family hired help.

"There were definitely bits and pieces we deferred to other people for," Brookins explained. "When we were up in the rafters and I saw my 15-year-old son hanging off with a nail gun, I just about had a heart attack. I said we have to hire someone to finish the roof."

And during moments when they had no idea how to continue, Brookins put up an optimistic front and rallied her children to keep trying.

"It was a big game of playing confidence for me," Brookins admitted. "I was the adult. If I started falling apart, there would be no hope. I had to hold it together for the kids, but there were times I had to turn away, trying to hold back tears."

The bank also gave them a timeframe of nine months to obtain a certificate of occupancy.

But she said she had to keep pushing the family forward.

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"There was no way out, because we had bought all of these supplies with all of our money," she said. "There was no money left to hire a crew to finish it all for us, like we would have loved. Those really early days felt the most hopeless."

Eventually, the family watched all their hard work pay off, she said: "To watch your children raising the walls of a house ... that's this library I'm going to sit in someday and I watched my kids raise this wall. Those were the moments that were really rewarding."

From Building a Home, to Rebuilding a Family

Constructing the house also served as a way for the Brookins to rebuild their family.

"As much as we'd like to think when you're in a tough situation, you all pull together, that's really not how it normally works," Cara explained. "My kids had been powerless for so long, watching bad things happen but not able to take any action."

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She said after years of being in an abusive home, the five of them had grown more apart than ever.

"By the time we started building, we didn't know how to communicate well," she said. "We didn't talk to each other. The early stages on the job site, there was very little communicating, which made the job even tougher."

So Brookins approached the project as a way to help her family grow closer, and help each of her four kids regain the confidence they had lost.

Although the children continued to go to school full time, everyone was given a job.

15-year-old Drew commanded the blueprints at the beginning of the project, and 17-year-old Hope was in charge of staining cabinets toward the end of the project.

Even 11-year-old Jada was assigned to the trowel duty. She wasn't allowed to use the power tools, though, Brookins added.

2-year-old Roman, who spent his days roaming around the job site with someone assigned to follow closely in tow, was the only exception.

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Brookins, who was 36 at the time, also continued her full-time job as a senior computer analyst, and found time in the evenings and early mornings to work on the house: "It was physically exhausting. Everything hurt for those full nine months," she joked.

But, her efforts were effective.

"You could just see the confidence level growing," she said. "I was slowly watching them become these powerful people when they had been so broken and small."

Now, eight years after they began construction on the home, Brookins said she's excited about the confidence and determination the project has instilled in her family.

"They're fearless," she exclaimed.

Hope, now 25, runs her own business, while Drew, now 23, has moved to Alaska to start his own life.

Jada, now 19, is trying out new hobbies like winter camping, and 11-year-old Roman, who was only a toddler during the project, now runs a YouTube channel and has become a social media influencer in his own right.

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"Coming from these small broken people that I saw when they were teenagers and younger," she said. "They'll try anything, and they'll believe they'll succeed."

The house, she said, was recently appraised for $500,000, more than triple what she spent in the process.

Cara Brookins has since compiled her story of hard work and perseverance into a book, "Rise: How A House Built a Family," which comes out January 24.

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