Choosing To Be Present
Andrew is a friendly person who smiles readily and is thoughtful in his conversation. He cares deeply about the people he serves and is aware of how much he gains from the relationships he’s made through his work with Communitas Supportive Care Society. This positive perspective is borne out of years of service experience around the world and here at home.
Andrew has lived and served in South East Asia, Ukraine, Bolivia, as well as in Prince George, BC. He’s worked with organizations like Mennonite Central Committee and multiply. Today, he’s studying to become a social worker and working with Communitas, serving people who live with mental health challenges, through a service called Supported Independent Living (SIL).
Andrew is bringing his global experience to his local context. He can still remember the experience that changed his worldview. At the young age of 13, serving with his parents in Cambodia, he began to see that he didn’t have all the answers. He realized that the people with which he interacted had as much to offer him as he had to offer them.
“That experience reshaped my understanding of what it really means to serve people,” he says. “It changed how I looked at support and empowerment.”
This reshaping was reinforced by his subsequent service experiences. In each context, Andrew found resilient people working at creating authentic communities.
“I truly experienced reciprocal relationships, where people living with severe trauma were finding ways to support and serve me,” he says. “It was very humbling.”
His experiences in service and his current schooling also impact his current work with SIL. Even now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrew supports a number of people who have lived with mental health challenges nearly all their adult lives. Bringing a different perspective, encouraging new habits, and setting realistic goals are a few of the ways that Andrew tries to support these individuals. Andrew sees each encounter as an opportunity to help change the trajectory of their lives.
“Each conversation, text, or meeting can help lift someone up and empower them to new heights,” he says. “I may not ever get to see where they end up but I get to support them as they change the trajectory of the rest of their life.”
COVID-19 has impacted Andrew’s working life in a few ways. He has begun working part time in one of Communitas group homes, supporting two children living with mental health challenges. Alongside of this work, he continues to engage with the adults he serves and now regularly connects by phone or internet. He’s also been able to come up with new ways for people to use their gifts and stay connected, developing art projects and other creative ways for people to stay engaged even while they are apart.
Andrew is grateful for a flexible schedule that allows him to study as he works. He also loves working with his colleagues at SIL. Vicky Manderson manages the SIL service at Communitas and says Andrew has been a wonderful addition to the team.
“Andrew is able to immediately put people at ease and build trust,” Vicky says, affirming his genuine support and encouragement of others. She is also appreciative of Andrew’s ability to think outside the box.
“He has come up with creative ways to engage with SIL participants and empower them to go after their goals. We are all grateful for his presence.”
When asked how anyone could support someone living with mental health challenges, he says that genuine relationships are key.
“I wish people could know that their presence in someone’s life really has power,” he says. “You don’t need a degree or any special training to be someone’s friend. Being with someone isn’t complicated, you just have to choose to be present.”