Just months after Hurricane Katrina blew the roof off Margaret Smith's Uptown house in August 2005, volunteers rushed to New Orleans to help rebuild. "I was a needle in a haystack in New Orleans," she tells PEOPLE, "and across America people came here and changed my life." Smith, 54, now operates a specialty collectibles shop in the front room of her refurbished home (pictured). "Everything is new again," she says. "Thank you America for giving me a whole new life."