Growing up with a parent who faced addiction and mental health challenges, Sandy developed a heart for others early on. “My dad struggled with an addiction to alcohol, and was what they called, at that time, ‘manic depressive,’” she recalls. “My parents divorced fairly early, so I grew up with a single mum and grandparents. I think that gives me empathy—I realize the impact that living in that kind of environment has on a person.”
After moving to Vancouver in 2006, Sandy’s deep empathy led her to look for opportunities to connect with and care for marginalized people. It was then that a friend mentioned UGM. “I went to a volunteer orientation and heard the staff talk about the Women & Families programs. And I thought, ‘Oh, that's really where I want to be.’”
Sandy began volunteering at UGM’s afternoon drop-ins, and soon women were asking her to teach them how to knit and crochet. It was here, over delicate handicrafts, that women began sharing their stories with her. “I felt blessed that they had a trust level to open up and tell me things,” says Sandy. “I think for a lot of people who are living in the Downtown Eastside, they sometimes feel like they're invisible. And so for somebody to be able to sit down and just talk with them was wonderful. As the saying goes, a burden shared is a burden lightened.”
When UGM first opened up The Sanctuary in 2014, Sandy came to recognize the challenges mothers and children face in overcoming poverty and addiction. “Getting to see the moms with their babies and the single woman come in and put in the work that was required to have a different life—I have so much respect for them. It's hard. It's a commitment. You think to yourself, ‘This takes courage,’ because it's so much easier not to do it. And yet they do it.”
Through her hands-on experience, Sandy has seen UGM staff lovingly connect with each and every person that comes through our doors—and that compassion filters down to volunteers. “I don't know who gets the most out of volunteering, whether it's the people in programs or whether it's me, because I find that it has changed my outlook on everything. To form a connection with another human being is so profound and humbling. It's a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
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