Making friends can be tough. But one young Australian is looking to change that.
Do you ever have that feeling where you’re too nervous to talk to someone? Where your social anxiety is so crippling that your heart races at a supersonic speed? Where you find yourself catching your breath and have trouble speaking?
You’re not alone.
Despite the human race being more connected than ever, the lack of social connectedness is a global issue. Look no further than the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, where the need to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” is Goal 3.
While studying an occupational therapy degree at Curtin University, third-year student Nick Maisey was forwarded an email by a coordinator that opened his eyes to how difficult it can be to get socially connected. In it, a young man named ‘Tim’ simply sought one thing: a friend.
“His simple, honest words resonated with me, so I went and met him. I realised that it is the people that we share life with that give us so much meaning and joy, but that we can all struggle to attain that in our lives, at different times, for different reasons,” says Nick.
To help grow a culture of inclusion and challenge the idea of not talking with strangers, Nick started his own organisation, Befriend, after graduating in 2010, with the mission to “break the barriers and social rules that get in the way of making diverse friendships happen”.
Befriend fosters the opportunity to form new friendships by inviting people, both young and old, to events, such as arts and crafts activities, barbecues, board game events, movie watching, outdoor adventures, picnics and quiz nights, in Perth for a meet and greet.
In April 2015 – after years of volunteering for Befriend, as well as working for Useful Inc. and the Mental Illness Fellowship of WA – Nick made the plunge to commit to his organisation and work in a full-time paid role as its director, designing strategies, supporting his staff and volunteers, developing its brand, and managing finances and events.
“It was the right time and one of the best decisions I’ve made. I really see the value I can bring to supporting Befriend’s growth now that I can commit my whole self to it,” Nick says.
“Since 2010, we’ve formed a community of over 4,500 members in Perth, we’re hosting more than 20 gatherings each month, we’ve launched additional programs to enable connection in creative ways and we’re being recognised as one of the leading local innovators in the space of inclusion.”
This year, Befriend was a finalist in the small organisation category of the Community Services Excellence Awards, and Nick himself was named as a finalist in The West Australian’s People’s Choice Award, which recognises those who have enhanced the lives of others in their community.
So how will Nick continue to help those who find it crippling to connect with people? And what’s the plan for Befriend going forward?
“The next phase is going to be about refining and growing a business model that enables us to generate financial value in exchange for the social value that we create, whilst also maintaining partnerships with funders who give us the capacity-building support needed to grow towards financial sustainability,” says Nick.
“We’re working to grow the Befriend Community across the Perth Metro area, so that any individual in Perth who discovers Befriend will find it easy to get connected locally.
“The Befriend Community is a truly unique collective of people, and its door is ever open to newcomers. We encourage people to get involved to help us keep growing and strengthening the community. We’re searching for volunteers, business partners and supporters of all kinds. Don’t be a stranger!”
Why study occupational therapy?
As an occupational therapy student, Nick learnt to assess and treat people who, because of illness, injury or circumstance, were limited in their ability to undertake everyday activities.
He learnt to identify barriers – physical, social, attitudinal or even legislative – that prevent engagement in occupation, assist people to regain lost functions, develop their abilities and social skills, and enhance their health and wellbeing.
“I’ve always been interested in health science and the human body, and I knew I wanted to go into a role where I’d be helping others. Occupational therapy sounded like a really practical way of helping people to live healthy, happy lives,” says Nick.
“I loved the practical nature of the occupational therapy course. Assignments weren’t just research and theory – they made us get out of our comfort zone and work with real people on real-life challenges. These experiences developed my personal capacities as well as my professional skills for being able to work with people from diverse backgrounds, enabling people to live meaningful lives.”
Name: Nicholas Maisey