Community Rebuilds' most recent student volunteers. Top row, left to right: Reyn Jones of Prescott, Arizona; Alan Debs of Gunnison, Colorado; Kevin Metzger of Springdale, Utah; Tim Knowlton of Brooklyn, New York; Chase Gorman of Cypress, California; Ismat Fathi of Andhra Pradesh, India; and Kathryn Nickson of London, England. Middle row: Jylissa Bizardie of Tucson, Arizona; Julie MacAdam of Westfield, Massachusetts; Ben Stephensen of Dallas, Texas; and Kristen Flemming of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bottom row: Lara Gale of Duvall, Washington; Amanda Stephensen of Dallas, Texas; Jack Lambert of London, England; Pete Drake of Sandy, Utah; and Kell Green of Glenpool, Oklahoma. [Courtesy photo]

On December 15, they scattered just as they came in July, working out rides, buying plane tickets and filling their fuel tanks for cross-country road trips. If the past is any indication, many of them will return, and whether they do or not, they will all have left their mark on Moab.

Last week, Community Rebuilds hosted open houses for Moab’s newest affordable straw-bale homes, built by the group’s 16 student volunteers, including three from overseas and others from across the U.S. Under the direction of three seasoned natural builders and two apprentices who are former interns, the group turned two vacant lots into home sites, performing almost all of the work from foundation to finish.

Community Rebuilds’ model is unique in the world of natural building. Most programs charge a hefty tuition fee, and students house and feed themselves while laboring for free to complete a short project. To be provided bulk food, housing and a small stipend while spending five months with master builders constructing permitted straw-bale family homes is a unique opportunity to anybody who is interested in natural building.

Alan Debs of Colorado had one semester to go at Western State Colorado University when he toured a Community Rebuilds house in Gunnison.

“I fell in love with it,” he said.

The host told him, “If you can’t eat everything in your house, you shouldn’t live in it either.”

“It flipped everything I knew about houses on its head,” Debs said. “I had never thought of it that way.”

A summer job building a cabin had piqued his interest in construction, but as a laborer he hadn’t learned much. Debs sent in his application shortly after the tour. Now, he plans to finance international travel as a natural builder, helping communities and continuing to build skills.

As valuable as the construction experience itself is, in many ways it becomes a vehicle for other transformational experiences, Community Rebuilds Program Manager Rikki Epperson said.

When they weren’t building, students worked evenings and weekends, volunteered with the Youth Garden Project and at events around town, and played in the amazing community and wilderness of Moab. After group meals, evenings at the campus were often accompanied by jam sessions and casual noodling.

“The feel-good part about it all is the connections and the friendships that are made,” Epperson said. “We’re always changed by these remarkable individuals, that’s the funnest part of the whole thing.”

“I did learn a lot about solar, and tons about building,” said Tim Knowlton, a musician and sound engineer who was drawn to Community Rebuilds for its week-long training in solar photovoltaic installation and overall program of passive solar construction.

“But it was also just a really good practice, and a chance to live a really healthy lifestyle,” he said.

This profile was made possible by the generous support of Rocky Mountain Power.

This Week: Community Rebuilds interns