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Christmas Giving

Christmas at YESS would not be the joyous time it is without the help and dedication of our volunteers. Nancy Ng has been serving Christmas dinner to our youth for the past 12 years. She has made sure that hundreds of youth have had a warm and welcoming Christmas Day as they all sit down to eat together. It means so much to us and our youth that she chooses to spend this precious time with us, a gift in itself.

Tell us a bit about yourself! I work as a writer for the Government of Alberta. I am also a non-fiction author. My first book (No, Really, Where Are You From?) was published in 2012, and it is being sold in different venues and bookstores around Edmonton. I’m currently working on my 2nd and 3rd book. I always look forward to all the festivals this great city has to offer in the summer, especially Heritage Days.

What inspired you to start volunteering with YESS? I had a very chaotic and unstable childhood, so I understand what a lot of the kids at YESS are going through. I never got to use YESS when I was a youth, but I could still relate to a lot of the youth at YESS, as it was a very difficult time in my life.

It means so much to me to know that the youth get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day.

As I’m older now and my life is no longer turbulent and uncertain, I still feel the presence of my youth. It’s heartbreaking to know that these youth have no place to go on such a day as Christmas (or any other day). I feel they need Christmas more than I do, and that is why I wanted to volunteer at YESS on Christmas Day. I have a warm and safe place to return to every single day of my life, but not these youth. I feel regardless if you’re a homeless youth or an adult, everybody deserves a place to go to that is warm and inviting, and have food for them, and not be outside walking around stressing where they can get some shelter or where their next meal is coming from. Nobody deserves to live that way.

If there was one thing you wish the community knew about YESS, what would it be? The one thing I wish the community knew about YESS is their life-changing programs and services to help homeless youth get back on their feet again. Whether it’s giving them structure, helping them with their resumes, or providing them with warm beds, YESS is there for these youth. As our economy becomes more volatile and ever changing, so are the family dynamics and structure. Edmonton is very lucky to have this organization help our homeless youth.

What special memories do you have of spending Christmas with the youth of YESS? There have been so many special memories of spending Christmas with youths at YESS. The ones that stand out for me the most are seeing the happiness in the youth’s faces throughout the years, when I see them at the Armoury or at the YESS headquarters. They know they’re in a safe and warm environment, and it shows in their faces. That means so much to me to know that they get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day, amidst their chaotic and turbulent everyday realities. It’s the least I can do and I will never forget that. I hope one day I can have the opportunity to bring my children in to also volunteer, so they can see what I see.

What are your words to live by? My words to live by are: It’s going to get better. I promise. In line with my philosophy is one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Thank you so much, Nancy, for being a strong and positive force for our youth over the past 12 years and for giving the gift of your time and service. Thank you for sharing the true meaning of the holidays with us!

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YESS Youth Making Her Dreams Come True

Dear Staff at Youth Empowerment & Support Services,

Sixteen years ago I stayed at YESS after having a significant breakdown in my relationship with my mother. Since then my life has travelled a wonderful road, and I have always credited the staff at the shelter as a significant factor in my success.

The staff at YESS treated me in a way that everyone else in my life was not able to—with dignity and respect. Their attitude towards me helped to nurture something inside me that was rapidly dying. As a troubled teen it was easy to start seeing yourself the way the rest of the world sees you—as worthless—and without the YESS staff I can’t imagine how I ever would have found the belief in myself to move forward.

One afternoon, a youth worker from the shelter conducted a simple exercise with us: she had us visualize the ultimate reality that we could be living ten years from now, and she had us write it out. I believe that I wanted to live in a log cabin, with a kind and loving husband, and have a career as a police officer. I left the youth shelter with a self-determination that saw me through college, completing a law degree at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. This coming August I am blessed to be celebrating the completion of my law degree; in October I celebrate five years of marriage to a kind, educated and loving man, and at the end of the summer my son—a healthy, well-adjusted, and interesting young man—begins high school.

I have thought many times over the years how critical my time at YESS was. The staff there were truly amazing. They believed in me—an act so simple, but so determinative of whether I chose to live the reality of how others saw me, or live it how it could be.

While I haven’t bought a log house yet (law school is awfully expensive!), I am well past any dream that I could have dared to contemplate when facing life on the streets at 16.

– Former YESS Youth

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Youth Finds the Power to Change His Story

Ask any of the YESS staff at Nexus or ARC and they’ll all agree: Sherwood’s journey has been amazing to watch and his gentle, positive personality a joy to work with.

Sherwood had already started to change his story when he arrived at YESS. He had just finished detox and knew he needed to find somewhere supportive to stay if he was going to keep up his sobriety. That is what he found at YESS.

“I talked to the staff here, telling them what I needed,” says Sherwood. “And I stayed involved in the groups and activities offered at ARC. Having somewhere to go was very helpful. I didn’t have to aimlessly walk around all day… and then I had somewhere to sleep at night. It kept me safe.”

Soon Sherwood was connected with resources to help him achieve his goals to maintain his sobriety, find a job, and get his own place.

“Sherwood came to me when he heard about the work experience program,” says Claire, YESS Employment Coordinator. “He was very excited about the food portion of the work experience and started his food safety program right away.”

As he was getting support for his employment goal, Sherwood also worked with Erin, an AHS Addictions Counsellor, to get a referral to a treatment program to help him maintain his sobriety. With Erin’s help, Sherwood was admitted to his first-choice treatment program at Shunda Creek. He always made his check-in calls to YESS Programs staff to share his progress and his feelings about the treatment process.

Our staff were so proud to watch Sherwood achieve one goal after another. It was no surprise—from his first days at Nexus and ARC, staff found Sherwood to be positive, driven, and patient with both others and himself.

After his amazing months at treatment, Sherwood returned to YESS programs and found resources to help him find long-term housing. Just over a week later, Sherwood moved into a sober living program. In a few months, Sherwood had gone from seeking emergency shelter to committing himself to his sobriety and achieving independence.

“I mentally took an inventory of how my life had been collapsing over the past couple of years, and told myself that I didn’t want it to keep going downhill,” Sherwood says. “My advice would be don’t be afraid to express where you’re at. Showing vulnerability will lead you to success… If you go and tell someone you want to use, they can help you out in that moment, they can teach you things in that moment.”

There’s so much for Sherwood to be proud of! What would he say are his top achievements?

“Getting past addiction. Building myself up to say I don’t need to use anymore, which has gotten me to 137 days clean! Working at becoming part of my family again. And having a plan to start budgeting, which I’ve never done before.”

Staff at Nexus and ARC know that while Sherwood’s time with YESS is over, his success is just beginning. The positivity and resilience he showed while he was in our programs even inspired other youth who share some of the same goals.

“I can only imagine where he will be in another few months,” says Claire. “His passion will surely take him to wherever he wishes to be.”

Congratulations, Sherwood, on all your hard work and all you have achieved! We know the future is bright for you!

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