habitat for humanity project
Photo: Leslie Monthan

1. Pick your cause

I wanted to do something out of the ordinary to mark my (gulp!) 50th birthday, so I decided to spend that week volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in the New Orleans area. I picked a Habitat affiliate in St. Tammany West parish, on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, where they're trying something new: While most Habitat houses are "stick" built, from scratch, here, to step up the process in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the affiliate has teamed up with All American Homes to create a block of 24 modular, or "systems-built," houses like these, which still have an individual, historic look.

by Leslie Monthan

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