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One Big Family

There’s an atmosphere of welcome in the communal dining area at First Avenue, an assisted-living residence in Chilliwack facilitated by Communitas. There’s chalk board art and artwork brightens up the walls. The kitchen is sparkling clean and Cy, the manager here, offers a hot cup of tea to his guest. He is eager to talk about his work and the successes he’s witnessed here.

“I love coming to work each day,” he says. “I know it sounds cliché, but as soon as I walked in here, I knew I was at home.”

First Avenue Assisted Living offers a safe and supportive environment where those living with mental health challenges can acquire knowledge and skills that will assist them to understand and manage their conditions for the long term. If they are able, the goal for each resident is to move towards independence within their community. Cy says that this is achieved by having and meeting high expectations. That is achieved by having a strong team and Cy is very clear that by “team” he means both his staff and those who live here.

“We work together with each person to maintain their mental and physical health,” he says. “It’s very much a team effort with each person bringing their strengths to the process.”

Lloyd, who has worked at First Avenue for nearly 2 years, says he’s witnessed many positive changes in the people with whom he works. From his perspective, it’s all about relationship and making an investment in each individual.

“It takes time to get to know someone, talking about what’s important to that person and addressing concerns,” he says. “This is my favourite part of my work here.”

The staff team at First Avenue make relationships with the people they serve a priority.

First Avenue is a unit with several suites, office space and a common kitchen/dining area. Most of the residents live with a room mate (there are two single suites) and all are expected to keep their apartments clean. They also share chores in the common areas. Cy says that recent changes to their communal meals has had a deep impact on the health and well-being of those who live here. Residents usually have breakfast on their own but Communitas provides lunch and dinner plus two snacks per day. They focus on the Canada Food Guide, avoiding processed foods, eating more fruits and vegetables, less meat and more grains. The focus of the communal meals is as much about relationship as it is about nutrition: gathering around the table to chat while enjoying a home-cooked meal creates a supportive atmosphere.

“Changing the menu has had an impact on the people who live here,” Cy says.  “Not only is it having an impact on their physical health but also on their sense of community. People are arriving early to meals and are willing to help out before and after dinner.”

Another successful program in which residents have participated is WRAP®: Wellness Recovery Action Plan®. WRAP helps participants to create a personal, mental health wellness process that helps individuals get well and stay well. Four people signed up for the six-week course that was offered at the Cheamview Clubhouse in Chilliwack. All four participated with 100% attendance – a significant milestone. Both Cy and Lloyd say they have seen the impact of this program.

“One of our community mental health workers said that the person they were working with was like a different person,” Lloyd says. “Each person who participated is really committed to putting their learning to work and they’re looking out for each other.”

It all comes back to that concept of community and of team. Cy is impressed with both his staff team and those they serve, noting how polite, how engaged and positive people are. Lloyd agrees.

“Everyone has their own strengths but what’s unique about First Avenue is that this is a place that really allows you to find and use your strengths,” he says. “We have a diverse team but we’ve really come together. It is like one big family.”

Communitas supports people living with mental health challenges through a variety of services.

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