Andre Watkis ’08: A Fulfillment Like No Other

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Living a meaningful life for Andre Watkis ’08 means helping others, a desire he felt at an early age. “Since I was 13, I have always wanted to work and support other people,” he says.  “Originally, I was thinking about going into psychology, but here in Canada, the social-work field allows me more exposure—and because of that, I decided to follow this road.”
After graduating from Mercersburg, Watkis, who is a native of Jamaica, attended the University of Toronto, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, French, and exceptionality in human learning. He recently completed a bachelor’s degree in social work from Dalhousie University in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
Watkis recognizes Mercersburg for giving him the confidence necessary to follow his dreams. “My education and my time at Mercersburg helped me get into college,” he says. “I think about the many people who mentored me while I was there, and it’s that mentorship that allowed me the confidence to feel that I was able to pursue my childhood dream of working and making a life out of supporting others,” said Watkis. His mentors included faculty members Peter Kempe, “Madame” (Heather Prescott), and his adviser Jeff Pierce.
Since 2017, Watkis has worked for several service organizations in a variety of roles and served diverse populations that have broadened and strengthened his knowledge and skills. These groups include the homeless, refugee children, families and children with mental health and developmental needs, individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and individuals who live with both mental-health and addiction issues. He also spent three years at Dalhousie researching the harms of HIV criminalization as part of a team of researchers.
Today, Watkis is a mental-health and addictions worker for Thresholds Homes and Supports, a nonprofit in Wellington, Ontario, that works to “transform the health and security of individuals by taking a comprehensive approach to mental health, addiction, and housing,” according to its website. He is also a child youth worker and consults with a local school district about how to best provide support for students with special needs and behavioral challenges.
In his current role, Watkis says he enjoys the complexities of supporting individuals living with mental health and addiction. “It is a vulnerable population that struggles with their addiction… and many still live in poverty, so my role with each individual is unique, and I enjoy that there’s a lot of dynamics with the position,” he says.
“I help them with resources for their addictions, and with housing. A lot of them can’t easily afford even the basic necessities of life, so I help them get connected to food sources, clothing, and medical attention.”
Helping people starts with making a personal connection, according to Watkis. “It is really all about relationships. If you’re able to make a connection with someone on a personal level, that’s where the therapeutic benefit starts and that connection is often enough to start the process of healing or progression in whatever they may be struggling with. Once that connection is there, we can work together. It is a partnership.”
Watkis realized the power of human connection early in his career. “I don’t know if I was able to appreciate it then,” he says. “I connected with an isolated senior. And, for me, we didn’t do that much. I just checked in with him to see how he was doing and we played a few games. But just from that individual sharing his story and expressing that he had no family, no connections… those few hours that we spent together each week may have not cost me much, but for him, it meant a great deal. So, just knowing that in one person’s life, to see that direct impact and to help them in a deep way, that was definitely meaningful to me.”
While Watkis gains fulfillment from supporting all populations, he is especially drawn to helping teens. “I feel that I connect with youth and teenagers on their perspectives and I understand some of their challenges; it can match my frequency in terms of the way that I operate and exist,” he says. “I also support those with mental health and addiction. As I see it, all these experiences with different groups are cumulative and help me sharpen my skills so that I can provide the best support for whoever I am working with.”
Watkis says he stays mindful of practicing self-care to avoid burnout. “With the work we do, you do get involved,” he explains. “You bring your whole self to what you do. We can be impacted just from hearing their stories, so focusing on self-care and maintaining a good work-life balance can help.”
As a Mercersburg student, Watkis lived in Keil Hall and played soccer. His fondest memories are of classmates David Strider ’08 and Valentin Quan Miranda ’08, traveling to soccer games with his teammates, attending homecoming, and spending time in Ford Hall. “It was definitely good times being with different people,” he says about the diversity of the school community.
Watkis believes his career experiences and Mercersburg have helped to shape him. “Mercersburg helped me to push myself,” he explains. “It was an environment that encouraged excellence and that, to this day, has helped me in my career, my mindset, and my approach to my work and my various roles.”
His recommendation for those who are interested in social work: “Go for it. It’s surprising how many needs there are that people have. So, if someone has a passion for it, I would encourage them to explore it.
“You don’t get into social work for the money. It is not the most lucrative field, but if you have that inner drive to work with people, the fulfillment that you get from it is like no other.”


More from the spring 2022 issue of Mercersburg Academy magazine