North Carolina boy put his tree house on Airbnb to help support mom, community

By Kathy Hanrahan

    MURPHY, North Carolina (WRAL) -- A 9-year-old North Carolina boy has put his tree house on Airbnb.

Eli Sylvester and his mom, Rachel, recently listed his tree house for rent on the popular travel website. It has since become a popular place for families looking to get away.

The tree house, located on his family's 5-acre property in Murphy, has one bedroom and one bathroom. There is one full bed that doubles as a couch and an upstairs loft with two twin beds.

Several years ago, Eli told his mom he wanted to build a tree house so he could climb up and "shoot Nerf guns from the trees and play spies."

"Little did I know, you can't just put plywood in the trees. You actually have to have, like, braces," Rachel Sylvester said. "It's quite a structure that needs to be in there to support people walking around."

Rachel saw it as a teaching moment, encouraging Eli to find ways to fund the project.

Eli borrowed $200 from his mother to start his own small store selling crafts like small, hollowed-out chicken eggs filled with bird seed and picture frames.

After the first $200 profit, Eli repaid his debt and began investing his profits into the construction of his dream tree house.

Eli raised about $1,500 to pay for the floor of the tree house.

"We need to protect this floor. That's very expensive, which means we need a roof. And if you have a roof, that means you need walls," Rachel Sylvester said.

One item led to another and a year-and-a-half later, the family had invested $4,800 in the project.

With such a nice tree house available, Eli wanted to find a way to turn a profit and help others. His mother already operated an Airbnb, so he knew how it worked.

"He woke me up one morning, opening my eyelid with his fingers and said 'Mimi, are you awake?'" Rachel said. "He said, 'I have an idea. I want to put my tree house on Airbnb next to your Airbnb, but don't worry we'll split the profits.'"

The two agreed to split the profits 50-50 to help cover property taxes, incidentals and medical treatment for Rachel, who suffered a traumatic brain injury several years ago.

The injury, which happened when Eli was 6 years old, left Rachel with memory loss and anxiety.

"He was cooking meals for me at 6 years old," Rachel recalled, noting that Eli served as a go-between for her when visitors came to their home, standing outside to speak to them to help calm Rachel's anxiety at the time.

Those interactions helped prepare Eli for his job as an Airbnb host. Rachel said Eli loves greeting his guests and even handles all cleanup after they leave.

Since opening, Eli's tree house has hosted about 175 people.

While being an Airbnb host is a nice side-gig, Eli wants to use the profits to give back to the local community. He and his mother started a nonprofit, "Raise the Bar," which aims to feed 10 families for Thanksgiving and take 10 children on an all-day field trip to a fun trampoline park. Eli also hopes to use proceeds to provide 50 gifts for children in need this Christmas.

Eli was inspired by the kindness those in the community showed his family when his mother was diagnosed with COVID-19 last November.

"We had quite a bit of people, like, send us food during that time, but even for Thanksgiving, we had large, very large Thanksgiving meals delivered to us," Rachel said. "And we had just an abundance of food, and we were talking about how, like, so many people don't."

In addition to food, Rachel said people sent Eli one-person games that he could play alone while his mother recovered.

It is something the family hasn't forgotten.

While Rachel has made many strides since her injury, she hopes that further treatment will help her eliminate stuttering and the need to wear earphones when they go out due to noise sensitivity.

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