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Abused Mom and Kids Start Over by Building a House Using YouTube

If you're still struggling with smokey-eye makeup tutorials and DIY cupcake videos, step aside for single mom Cara Brookins. The Arkansas writer and her four kids built—with their own hands—the 5-bedroom house where they now live.

Brookins had never built a house a house before. She's a writer, not a construction worker. She didn't let her inexperience stop her, though. Instead, she figured everything out by watching YouTube tutorials.

After two divorces left her financially strapped, Brookins almost gave up on the idea of a nice place to live for her and her four kids. She didn't have the money to hire builders, but she did have a piece of property to sell to cover the $130,000 she estimated the tools and materials would cost.

The young-adult novelist sold the acreage, got a small bank loan, fired up YouTube and dove in. Brookins writes about her experience in the book, "Rise: How a House Built a Family."

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Brookins and her kids—Hope, Drew, Jada and Roman, who were 17 to 2 at the time—worked on the house for 9 months. The oldest, Drew, helped his mom draw blueprints that the city had to approve. Roman mixed a lot of concrete. Hope cooked food for them. And Jada hauled water from a nearby pond to mix with the bags of concrete.

It's an amazing feat, but one Brookins and her kids only see in hindsight. At the time they were building, they were actually ashamed. "We kept it largely secret even from my coworkers and the kids’ friends. The shame surrounding domestic violence takes a lot of work to sweat away. Little by little, we found our strength and our family bonds," she wrote on her website.

When they started, Brookins says she'd just left a situation where there was a lot of domestic abuse that she and the kids were still recovering from. "[W]e thought this project would rebuild our family. It did—but first it knocked us to our knees," she wrote.

When they could afford it, and when they just couldn't figure out how to safely build something on their own, Brookins would hire a local firefighter with building experience for $25 per hour to take care of it, CNN's Kayla Rodgers reported about the project.

Not even a year after first clicking play on YouTube (and breaking ground), the five moved into their 3,500 square-foot house. Everyone has their own bedroom. The whole family shares the library, where Brookins spent the next couple of years writing a book about their experience.

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"I never intended to write a book. I was ashamed. But I think it is important to shift your perspective on any negative situation and do something big," she said.

It's not like everything was easy after they walked over the threshold for the first time. But having built their own house, they learned not only about plumbing, wiring, framing walls and pouring concrete. They learned about taking on big challenges.

"Building our house gave us the strength and determination to tackle every challenge," she writes.

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Photographs: Cara Brookins