The Who

“I want each of you to tell me why you are here,” says Emily.

It’s a big question.

The effervescent director of Community Rebuilds looks around the circle at the 11 eclectic faces staring back at her. We are arranged in a rough circle in the homey living room of Eric and Nancy’s house. The room has a stillness and comfort to it rarely found in modern houses. A cozy, warm feeling that seems to emanate from the plastered walls and adobe floor.

This house is the reason why we are here.  The reason why, yesterday ,11 of us arrived from across the country to spend the next four and a half months in a little town in the middle of southeastern Utah.

We are all here because this house -and the 7 other homes Community Rebuilds has constructed- are not normal houses.

At a quick glance you could be forgiven for not noticing anything out of the ordinary.  There are walls, a roof, windows, doors, everything you might expect to see on a tasteful, modest home in Moab, Utah. But look a little closer and you start to notice how thick the walls are, how the main windows and all doors are facing south, how the texture of the plaster on the walls is very similar to the dirt and sand in the surrounding the area.

The fact is that the homes that Community Rebuilds builds have far more of southeastern Utah in them then almost any other homes in the area. They are straw bale houses made almost exclusively from local, natural materials, for low-come individuals and families. Using these abundant, natural materials is not only significantly cheaper than conventional building supplies, but it also results in a house that is wildly energy efficient.  The cost of building the house is reduced even further by what our 11 faces represent; free labor.

There are several other options for anyone who wants to learn natural building first-hand, but they are expensive. Community Rebuilds is different. It’s based around the exchange of labor for knowledge. In return for working for free we, the interns, are provided with housing, a food stipend, and the invaluable knowledge gained from building a straw bale house from the ground up with the help of an expert builder.

But who are these interns, this motely crew of faces looking back at the founder of Community Rebuilds? And why are we here?




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Noah M. Erickson                                                                                                                  Portland, OR

As long as I can remember I have gotten excited to use my hands. Growing up on a dairy farm in central Minnesota, I had lots of time to roam the surrounding prairie with my brothers and sister. I grew fascinated with the mystery of the outdoors, becoming entranced by detail in the grasses, killdeer, oak grove, cows, chickens and whatever else was happing around me. My mom is a midwife and my dad a builder/farmer. The farm taught me the truths about death and the intrinsic beauty of life.

When I was 13 my family moved to Portland, Oregon. I started to understand the pertinence of studying the natural processes of earth. At the Portland Waldorf high school I made some lifelong friends, and I began to sharpen my life knife.

After high school I did a yearlong primitive skills internship with Dancing Hawk Lifeways. This was an urban experience with trips to wild places around the northwest, culminating with a 15 day kayak trip hoping islands in the San Juans (I made a skin on frame Kayak, for this!).

I went to Prescott College for four years, and graduated with a major in Environmental Studies, a focus in ecological design, and a minor in Geology. I grew fond of the high chaparral forests, the ponderosa pines, the passionate community, intelligent professors, the ample amounts of exposed rock, my climbing shoes, and my darling girlfriend Stefanie.

After graduating I was dropped into the reality of the need to make money. So, I started working all kinds of conventional construction jobs with my dad back in Portland. I continued connecting with the natural world through different adventurous outlets.  With time to think about where I was and where I wanted to go with my passions, I came up with these three important pieces to my life. I enjoy natural history, teaching and being taught, and using my hands to craft.

I applied to Community Rebuilds, was invited to join, and now after one week of living in Moab, I have many new friends, the building site is graded, the footer forms are being formed and my hands are busy. It feels right.


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Jessica Manderfield

I grew up in a tightly woven community at a Michigan Independent school called Upland Hills. Everything we did had a connection to the outside world around us and we always strived to be as sustainable as we could. Even though it was my early education its values and simple way of life always stuck with me. I became highly interested in Environmental Psychology once in University and upon graduating I moved overseas to engross myself in different cultures. My experiences abroad really opened my eyes to different styles of living and interacting with the planet we live on. When I found this program I could not have been more excited since it is such a great learning experience. Whether I build my own home, decide to become a builder, or only pick up a hammer to hang wall art the skills gained from this internship will be with me for the rest of my life. Plus to be able to be apart of improving a community, getting the word out on Strawbale construction, and helping individuals who without this process would not be able to live in such a home is amazing. This experience is truly unique and will be a journey of epic adventures!

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Lindsey Clements

Over the last year I have been exploring different ways to use creativity on a daily basis and in a way that is meaningful.  Pursuing a career in a trade field has intrigued me because I like the idea of focusing on a specific path and honing those skills.  However, I am not sure what that path is at this point in my life but I do know I want to feel a connection to the land and environment that is often absent in conventional building.  I heard about Community Rebuilds from a friend and it seemed like an amazing place to learn new skills while also providing something valuable to community members.   Being part of the construction of a CR home from the ground up allows for insight into many of the aspects of the building process that could otherwise take years to grasp.  I am hoping to use my time here to not only do my part to help build a home, but also find something that fuels my passion for creativity and meaningful work.  I am looking forward to working with and learning from Doug, Dan, and all my fellow interns during these next four months.


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Josh Raff

I’m native to Louisville, KY and have found my center in rock-climbing and spending more time outdoors than inside. My bachelor’s degree is in Art and I took initiative to complete med school requisites and a Biology minor, despite being unsure about pursuing the M.D. title. The diverse exposure I’ve had as an art major, pre-med student, and working a variety of entry-level and manual labor jobs has oriented me to follow intuition rather than a career-path. In my senior year at college I spent Winter Break learning to climb here in Moab. The desert left its impact in my consciousness as it has done to many who feel their self-importance shrink before the vast discerning landscape of southwest Utah. The straw-bale constructed, natural build home I stayed in left its impact as well. Intuition urged me on to seek greater intimacy with both these realms. Following that intuition led me to Community Rebuilds. I am enjoying the experience thus far and looking forward to what will become.

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Lev Darkhovsky

There are so many reasons to want to intern with Community Rebuilds. Not only do they give an opportunity to learn the craft of natural building to people of all levels of experience, but they do so in the jaw dropping landscape that is Moab, Utah. Coming to CR fulfills yet another crucial piece in my broad interests in sustainability. When we approach the concept of self sustenance and pay homage to the natural cycles of ecology, we have to interact with our environments in ways that respect the consequences of our actions. From the way we grow our food to the shelters in which we reside, long term considerations of the acquisition and use of materials have pertinent effects on things beyond ourselves. By expanding our toolbox, we come to understand the full spectrum of options that can help us reach this balance. Engaging the community through this lens, and opening up otherwise closed doors, I couldn’t think of a better introduction to alternative building than Community Rebuilds.

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Mark Pryshlak

When I heard of straw bail homes an image of the three little pigs was the first thing that popped into my head. Being naive to the building style I couldn’t imagine what straw bail building actually was. Walking through the home I was blown away by its beauty both in design and function. Naturally I wanted to learn more, and I applied to community rebuild. These are incredible homes that are making a huge impact in the community. I feel so fortunate to be able to be part of a team of like minded individuals working together to learn this emerging style of house building. Together I hope to learn how to one day build my own home and spread this style to other places.

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Katie Grauel

What attracted me to Community Rebuilds is the unique opportunity it presents to learn interesting practical stills while providing a needed service to the community AND at the same time getting to live and work with a rad group of like-minded individuals.  I studied environmental science in college and had several paths that interested me including outdoor education, sustainable agriculture and permaculture, and conservation/natural history.  Since school I have mostly worked in outdoor education and eco-tourism living very transiently.  Community Rebuilds provides the opportunity for me to re-engage with another one of my passions.  I love project-work and hope to gain  knowledge and experience necessary to help me ultimately fulfill what I consider to be the true American dream:  building my own home and living off the land.

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Gabriel Woytek

I’m embarking on a career in natural building.  I love Moab.  I always wanted to be one of the interns after spending time with a few of the groups.  Good times.


Serah Dawn Mead

I feel very strongly about the importance of shelter – for the body and soul. In the Fall of 2011 I was a Community Rebuilds intern and co-built Laurel Hagen’s straw bale home. The experience was transformative. I took those lessons and ideals with me and moved to Oregon with my partner Gabriel for two years of farming and founding an artist residency program called Art Farm. Two years was enough time to realize that we missed Moab and wanted to continue our work in non profits in that community.  I’m proud to say that I’ve come back to CR as the associate director and I’m elated to be able to apply myself in such a rad organization.

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Isabelle Scott

I was initially interested in Community Rebuilds because of  the available opportunities to improve both my personal future and to work with communities that I plan to live in in the future. I hope to one day own a house that I can ideally build, or at least renovate, using the sustainable building techniques that I learn here. I also plan to use the concepts that I learn here to volunteer and help out in different communities that I plan to be a part of going forward. Community Rebuilds is an excellent occasion to gain aspiration and expertise that I personally do not plan to have a lot of professional exposure to but that I will use throughout my life.


Alex White

I have a B.S. in sustainable development and have always been interested in the hands on components of sustainability, such as natural building. Community Rebuilds appeals to me because it allows interns to learn a valuable skill while serving the community.

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Travis Holtby


When I first moved to Moab a year and a half ago some of the first people I became friends with were Community Rebuilds interns. They were the first people to expose me to the organization and since then I have had the opportunity to get know several more groups of interns and CR employees. The more I learned about Community Rebuilds the more interested I became.


After we finish going around the circle there is a short pause.

“Those are some great answers,” says Emily.

And they are.

There is a saying among locals that you don’t just end up in Moab, you come here because you really want to be here. That same sentiment is even truer with Community Rebuilds. Working at an unpaid internship building houses out of mud and straw in the desert is not something I often hear when asking friends about there spring or fall plans. But that is why we are all here, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.

One Response to “The Who”
  1. Aunt Marty says:

    I want the 3rd signed book of yours!!! You make me wish I was younger!!! ALL of your parents & people helped shape wonderful individuals!!! I PROUD! XO aM

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