“Everyone is contributing to the moment, to the group dynamics. You can write people off because it looks like they don’t interact in a way that is expected in society – but you get them out and you see what sparks their joy…. that’s what it’s about!”

– Sandie, 2024

Sandie Thorne has been a Host and a friend of Befriend for 6 years. After many months of juggling multiple volunteer and community commitments, managing her health, and navigating all that comes with being a community leader, she has bravely decided to take a break from her role in hosting so she can focus on other things she’s passionate about.


To celebrate this decision and learn from Sandie’s rich experiences bringing the Befriend community together for all kinds of social activities – from games and walks around the lake, to dinners and online travel chats – Zena and myself, Hayley, sat down with her at Dome, Belmont, to hear her story.


We began our conversation together by asking Sandie how she’d describe herself to someone who doesn’t know her. In true Curious-Sandie-Style, she smiled, admitting that she found this question quite difficult to answer, and said “actually, I’d love to flip this question around and ask how you would describe me”. 


I took a moment, thinking about all the stories and interactions I’d had with Sandie over the years; I thought about how she navigated the pandemic with resilience and openness, hosting all kinds of online activities and conversations during periods of lockdown and isolation. I reflected on how she’d navigated diverse personalities in her social groups with strength and care, always with such strong values of inclusion at the heart of it. I recalled how she participated so willingly and passionately in a co-design session with us, despite the fact that she didn’t feel well that evening.

Zena had written her own little list of Sandie’s gifts and qualities on her notepad, and together we shared our thoughts to Sandie… “Resilient. Passionate. A Community Connector who cares deeply about holding space for others. Always seeing opportunities. Holds high standards. An advocate. Empathetic. And someone on a journey of self-growth over the years”.


Sandie’s smile confirmed that she recognised elements of herself in our words and appreciated that we knew her well. “I am resilient and I bounce back from most things… but I have my limits”, she admitted. “Sometimes the strength isn’t there. I have a lot of grit and determination, though. I’ve always been a champion for the underdog because I know what it’s like to not belong and to not feel connected. I’ve felt that so acutely in my life. So I’m gonna live and breathe that ethos of inclusion”.

Sandie has held a number of volunteer positions in her life; she currently works at a local Red Cross Op Shop and has done for the last 5 years, she’s volunteered for Girl Guides, St Johns Ambulance Service, The Cadets, the Olympics, Royal Perth and Bentley Hospital… the list goes on! “I’m just trying to make my way through life, making meaning of it, especially when my life hasn’t always been very kind to me. And if I can change one person’s life, then, yeah, it’s worth it.”


When we asked Sandie what drew her to volunteering as a Host with Befriend, she recalled how, at the time, she was suffering from a period of deep depression. “I was in a very severe depressive episode and I was isolating for some months at home. My life only consisted of existing and maintaining my mental health appointments. I wanted to consider volunteering for something to connect me back to the community. I’m an introvert but I’m actually someone who likes to get out there and connect…I like socialising. So I knew something had to change and I had to get out of my comfort zone”. 

Sandie was looking for a volunteer position that was different to others she’d had. “I wanted something with fewer demands – not ‘do this thing in this way, on these days’. I needed autonomy and flexibility… and it had to mean something to me. I think Befriend was already on my radar but I wasn’t ready to step right into it yet”. Sandie said that she was drawn to us due to our “friendliness, philosophies and driving factors” and our “embrace of inclusiveness”. So, Curious Sandie went along to an existing group run by Befriend Host, Mihn. Mihn ran a walking event around Tomato Lake and after going along two or three times, and having a chat with a local Community Builder from Befriend, Sandie thought to herself “this sounds cool… yeah, I think I could do this”.


Sandie started running her own Board Games night in Belmont, eventually taking over the walking group once Mihn went to full time work. A few more people in the local area began hosting and a small-yet-mighty Belmont Hub began to emerge; a team of committed locals who would run social activities for anyone and everyone.

“I loved the essential oils workshop! My family came along to that too and I really appreciated that they supported me with that. Good fun. The Games nights were some of the very best though… sometimes we’d have 18 or 20 people! And the Host Retreats we used to do; I still have the bag of ‘warm and fuzzies’ and when I feel a bit down, I pull it out and read through all the nice things that people said about me”. 


In 2023, Sandie won the Community Service Award from Belmont Council as a result of her many volunteer commitments serving the mental health and disability space, including her role hosting through Befriend. She recalls, “winning it was huge for me. I don’t do this for the recognition, but at the same time, it was valuable to me that people saw I had value and worth.”


When we chatted more with Sandie about what was important to her about hosting, she recalled two stories to us. The first was about a young man who would come to all of Sandie’s group events and didn’t say much to anyone for a long time. “It took him a good three years to gently draw out. I found out a common interest we had and we went from there… he’s a really nice guy you can have a chat with now!”


This sentiment was again echoed when Sandie recalled having someone join her on the Tomato Lake Walk. This gentleman uses a wheelchair and communicates non-verbally, and often he was asleep in his chair for the duration of the walk, but, as Sandie reflected, “when he was awake, you could see the joy on his face, he just lit up! And the times he was asleep… well good for him, must’ve been relaxing!”

As I listened, I could see Sandie’s passion for inclusion shining through. She passes no judgements, she’s committed to holding a safe and gentle space for everyone, and she’s inherently curious about people and finds everyone interesting to be around. “Everyone is contributing to the moment, to the group dynamics. You can write people off because it looks like they don’t interact in a way that is expected in society – but you get them out and you see what sparks their joy…. that’s what it’s about! I never wanted to write anyone off… there’s no defects, just differences. I’ll miss things like that”.


Sandie noted that hosting was full of ‘golden moments’ but sometimes those golden moments ‘fractured’ and felt out of balance. “I felt like, towards the end, I was always so busy making sure everyone else was feeling safe, protected, and included that I wasn’t enjoying it myself. I wanted to shield everyone”.

Sandie’s transition out of hosting with Befriend is not one we feel sad about. In fact, we celebrate it whole-heartedly with her! Sandie is a true plate-juggler and after many years of plate-juggling, she’s choosing to focus on her other community passion projects and priorities.


We ended our conversation by asking Sandie about the future.


“As rubbish as my health is, I try to see it as a positive, because I can still stay connected to my community. I will continue to grow IDEAL* and I’m going to use this year to really build it up. We’re getting some big players coming in now to help drive that forward. I hope it becomes like Activate Mental Health or like Befriend, in its own way. It’s hard when you don’t work to stay connected and productive, but I am still involved in so many ways. My community knows me and I feel safe with them, they have my back”.


And to anyone who is worried about how to connect, how to host, how to meet new people, Sandie offers you this: “Be curious about who you will meet… being curious will open up HUGE doors for you!”


A big thank you to Sandie for the last six years hosting with Befriend, for enabling us to be a part of her journey and for all she’s taught us along the way. Here’s to the next six years as a friend of Befriend!


* Sandie now runs a Perth-based peer support group on Facebook with over 2k followers. IDEAL is dedicated to sharing information about inclusive social groups, events and gatherings for people with disabilities and their support teams to browse new experiences and plan their days