For those of you who have not had the experience, allow me to share with you the magic of doing a “build” with Habitat for Humanity. First, while most everyone has heard of this organization, many may not fully understand what it does and how it works. In short, Habitat is a non-profit that helps families and improves places to call home. But this includes more than simply building new residences (both homes and town-houses), but also helping renovate homes for the disabled and those in need.

The scope and benefits that Habitat provides extend beyond the family living in the houses served, and include improving the surrounding communities. I have seen this firsthand as a member of the board for the local Habitat chapter here in Los Angeles.

Three years ago Habitat built houses in a distressed area of Long Beach. Having the new homes, and owners that took good care of them, has really turned around that community. Not only did we build new homes in Long Beach, we also made cosmetic and capital improvements to others in the surrounding areas, in houses where the owner was disabled, senior, or otherwise unable to do the work. This area now has playgrounds, parks and a sense of community.

In Los Angeles there is an enormous need, with over 500 applicants for each Habitat spot. The vetting process is strict, and good credit is very important. Habitat offers classes to those in need on how to improve credit scores and how to purchase a home. The homes built by Habitat are sold to the new owners with very low interest rate mortgages, and the payments are capped at a percentage of the monthly income (generally around 33%). In addition, the new owners are required to donate 500 hours of “sweat equity” on a build project by volunteering to work on their family’s own home or another Habitat home. The proceeds from the Habitat mortgages are used to expand operations and build other homes. In addition, to fund its operations there are donations including an annual “Builders Ball” in Los Angeles which raises close to $1 million each year, and “ReStore” retail operations where everything that is sold was donated.

Last Friday a group from Proskauer’s LA Office including few partners, associates and summer associates, volunteered in Culver City where 10 new residences were being built. We worked hard in 95 degree heat, which is not typical for the West Side in Los Angeles, and felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Especially by helping with the framing that was underway, we saw the direct results of our efforts because we helped raise a wall or establish a floor where there was none before. The biggest reward is knowing that you are doing something good for others, as a team.

If you have not had the opportunity to build with Habitat, the sweat and perhaps a few blisters from hammering nails are well worth the reward.