“Getting My Hands Dirty”

I came to Moab in August of 2013 to take a job guiding rock climbing – my passion since high school. I had been living out of a minivan, travelling, climbing, and working for months, a handful of dollars to my name, and it seemed like an exciting next step: my dream job, in a place that felt like heaven on Earth (or Mars, with all the red rock)! By the next year, I made enough to move into a room I shared with my partner at the time, brought the family dog over from Colorado, and so began the next chapter. As the years rolled on, I fell deeper in love with the desert. For the first time in my life, I realized I could be happy in one place – here – forever. 

However, even as the idea of settling down entered my head, the idea of being a homeowner didn’t even register as a possibility. Me? A climbing guide? 

I thought I’d always rent a room in a house with friends or roommates. I was still paying off student loans from a decade earlier, and the idea of a mortgage terrified me. The local news was a broken record about high housing prices, driven up by second homeowners and nightly rentals, and the lack of affordable housing.

Over the years, a friend and I went to multiple Community Rebuilds open house tours out of boredom and curiosity. I remember the moment at one of those, where Rikki Epperson asked how long we’d lived in the area, and suggested we both apply to the program. I was surprised and amused – it still had not occurred to me that I could be a homeowner, let alone of a gorgeous, affordable, brand new, low-carbon home. Fast-forward four years, and here I am! COVID-quarantined in my own house, and loving every second and every inch of it. And therein lies the magic of Community Rebuilds. It is life-changing, empowering, and community-building.

I look at my fellow CR homeowners and see teachers, nurses, massage therapists, small business owners, guides, restaurant servers, nonprofit leaders, and artists; individuals and families who make our community what it is. Community Rebuilds, and the USDA’s Rural Development program, allowed all of us to take part in the profound experience of helping build our own homes in the place we love, where we may have never been able to otherwise. The feeling of security and peace that comes with knowing I have a safe, affordable place to live here indefinitely is hard to put into words. I am thankful for it every single day.

My favorite part of the program was undoubtedly getting my hands dirty while learning how to build a home, foundation to finish, with a team of incredible interns and the other homeowners, instructed by CR’s amazing staff. Many of us had zero experience building, and by the end were comfortable with power tools, advanced plaster techniques, and solar energy and greywater systems. The skills, knowledge, and confidence and we gained through this program are invaluable, and the friendships and connections are lifelong. Even as many of the crew went separate ways at the end of the semester, they will always be welcome in my home here. My co-homeowners and I form a sub-community and support network for each other in our small town. It was so helpful to navigate this new and difficult process with other locals who I can now count as friends.

I hope CR and USDA RD’s partnership continues in years to come, because it is a huge asset to Moab as a community, to locals from all walks of life, and to aspiring natural builders and the communities they will go on to serve.

By Marie Brophy

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