Choosing to be present

Serving mentally challenged people means supporting and empowering them, and learning from them

Angelika Dawson | Communitas Supportive Care Society
Abbotsford, British Columbia
Andrew Ardell brings a global perspective to his work at Communitas Supportive Care Society. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Ardell)

Andrew Ardell 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 has made through his work with the Communitas Supportive Care Society. This positive perspective is borne out of years of service experience around the world and here at home.

Ardell has lived and served in Southeast Asia, Ukraine and Bolivia, as well as in Prince George, B.C. He has worked with organizations like Mennonite Central Committee. Today, he is studying to become a social worker and is working with Communitas, serving people who live with mental-health challenges through a service called Supported Independent Living (SIL).

Ardell 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 whom 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, he 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, Ardell supports a number of people who have lived with mental-health challenges nearly all of their adult lives. Bringing a different perspective, encouraging new habits and setting realistic goals are a few of the ways that Ardell tries to support these individuals. He 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 Ardell’s working life in a few ways. He has begun working part time in one of Communitas’s 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 with by phone or the internet. He has 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.

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.” 

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Andrew Ardell brings a global perspective to his work at Communitas Supportive Care Society. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Ardell)

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