For Alabama man, new house is foam, sweet home



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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn guidance counselor Brad Hook's commute to work just got a whole lot shorter.

Hooks, who works at Ogletree Elementary School, has pledged for a second time to live in a hexagonal foam board home set up on the school's campus with his 8-year-old son, Banjo, until he raises a personal fundraising goal for the school's Relay for Life team — this year, $2,500.

For Hooks, who is this year's event lead for Lee County's Relay for Life, the cause is a personal one.

"It's one of those causes that most people have been touched by, and they don't mind making the donation," Hooks said. "And that's the reason I got started with all this. My grandmother had breast cancer, my mother had breast cancer . my ex-wife had breast cancer. So it's been something that's been in my life, so I got involved in the Relay for Life after my mom was diagnosed, and I've just done it ever since."

Hooks and a group of fifth grade students at OES spent two weeks last year building the structure out of inch-thick foam board and tape, modeling it after traditional yurts common to Central Asia. The yurt project, intended to be a learning experience for the students, was funded through a FACES grant that Hooks applied for and that was awarded by Auburn City Schools.

"There's a lot of math involved," Hooks said of building the yurt. "The fact that it's a hexagon, we did algebra and geometry, we cut along the hypotenuse to create the roof panels, we talked about opposite adjacent angles and all that stuff. So it was just some math concepts. And then we put it together, and we had a really cool structure."

The year before last, Hooks lived in a tepee on the OES campus to raise funds for Relay for Life, but decided to move into the yurt last year.

"I thought, 'Hey, I've got the yurt. It'll be even cooler than the tepee because it's so unusual.'"

It took Hooks only four days of living in the "hexayurt" last year to raise his then goal of $2,000 for Relay for Life. He was able to take the yurt apart in large pieces by cutting the tape that holds it together and folding it along certain lines to store it until this year.

"There are no internal skeletal things," Hooks said. "It's just kind of all taped together, and it supports itself."

Outside, the minimalistic structure is joined by a cooler, a grill, some folding chairs and a table, on which Hooks sets out a basket for donations during the morning and afternoon hours as he waves to drivers in the school parking lot.

A tarp inside the yurt provides a barrier between sleeping bags and the damp ground. Looking up to the roof from the inside, Hooks joked about the yurt's "skylights," formed from the cracks between the foam board cuts, which all come to the point in the center of the structure.

The yurt is highly visible to drivers in the school's carpool line, situated in a spot of grass right next to where cars form a drop-off line in the morning and a pickup line in the afternoon.

"The cool thing is that with it sitting out here and the parents knowing about it, a lot of time parents come by and they'll just sit around, and we'll grill and eat hamburgers and talk and stuff," Hooks said, adding that he and Banjo play games to stay entertained.

"We'll pitch the baseball and play Frisbee, and it's like a vacation for him," Hooks said.

Hooks added that he and his son are avid campers, so braving the elements and sleeping on the ground are not the biggest challenges.

"The real challenge is, I'm still required to go to work," Hooks joked, "so the real challenge is bathing, brushing your teeth and all that stuff and getting ready for work."

Sunday night was Hooks' and his son's first night staying in the yurt, and OES Principal Mary Anna Martin-Smith said Hooks had already raised a couple hundred dollars after Monday morning.

"I think what's great about this initiative that we try to do at this level is, we attempt to do activities and events that relate to children and help them understand the importance (of Relay for Life), but then it (the yurt) is also a unique, eye-catching thing for children to really become involved in," said Martin-Smith, who added that several teachers incorporate it into their lessons.

Though rain is in the forecast for this week, Hooks isn't worried. He recalled that last year the yurt, held in place with ground stakes and bungee cords, easily weathered a daytime storm.

More than precipitation, Hook's main concern as he lives in his foam home is supporting Relay for Life's initiatives — ones he said are bolstered throughout all local school systems including Auburn, Opelika and Lee County.

"One of the other reasons that I do this here and kind of do it on school property, and we make a big deal about it at our school, is we're really trying to create aware and involved students, and we show them that as a faculty and individuals that we're involved in the community in different ways and different charities. I think it motivates them to do that as well," Hooks said.

People can donate with cash or checks (made out to Relay for Life or the American Cancer Society) at OES or online at Lee County Relay for Life's website. Lee County's Relay for Life event will be April 24 starting at noon at Opelika's Courthouse Square.

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Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, http://www.oanow.com/

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