Usually when people take vacation time from work, they head to some exotic locale or the nearest beach. Not Joanne Machado.
For the past four years, Machado has used one or two weeks of her vacation time to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Manitoba, the local arm of an international organization that builds affordable housing for purchase by low-income families.
Most people think Machado is being selfless, but she feels the opposite way.
"It's really hard to explain, (but) I feel selfish that I can take a week's vacation and go and build a house," said the 47-year-old, who works as an executive assistant at a Crown corporation.
Next month, Machado will participate in her eighth build project. She had no construction experience prior to joining Habitat in the summer of 2010.
She recalls that first week as an amazing experience: she had fun meeting people, got some exercise and learned new skills, such as how to use a hammer and skill saw properly, as well as how to frame a wall.
After that week, she wanted more.
"It's infectious," she said. "Habitat calls it 'habititis' -- it gets into your blood and you become infected with wanting to do this."
Machado also volunteers on Habitat's Women Build committee. Each year, the committee organizes fundraisers, such as a fashion show and a golf tournament, to raise the money needed to build an affordable home for a single mother to purchase.
Women Build also includes women who help construct the home as well as provide leadership training and mentoring.
Sometimes men are on the Women Build committee.
Machado said the idea is not to be gender exclusive, but rather to place an emphasis on introducing women to construction in a safe way that does not intimidate them.
"Women can gain the confidence in construction skills so that they can go out and use those skills on their own home or a regular Habitat build."
Women can also learn leadership skills through the committee, as Machado did. This summer she will volunteer as a crew leader, teaching some of the same skills she learned during her first build four years ago.
Habitat is currently looking for volunteers to join the Women Build Committee. Anyone interested can visit www.habitat.mb.ca for more information.
As someone who used to work in a school, Machado says she has seen the impact stable housing can have on the life of a lower-income family.
In her experience, children from transient families had a more difficult time with school given the disruptive nature of moving, whereas lower-income children who had a stable-living situation were better able to flourish.
"Stable housing makes such a difference," Machado said. "It can almost end that cycle of poverty and it gives a family a sense of pride in home ownership."
She invites people to get involved. They just might walk away with habit- it-is.
"Come out and build, and you'll find out why I do this," she said. "It's an amazing experience."
If you know a special volunteer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.