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Message from Margo

December 1st was the launch of our new holiday fundraising campaign, “YESS is Home for the Holidays.” As this is my first message as Executive Director, I thought I would explain the rationale behind our new campaign.

Winter can be a brutal and unforgiving season in Edmonton. For most of us, the holiday season offers some light, love, and connection during the coldest, darkest months. For YESS kids, this season emphasizes what they don’t have: a home. A home is not just the shelter and basic needs a house provides—a home is full of warmth and love and family. For youth experiencing homelessness and difficult realities, YESS is home in every sense of the word.

The purpose of the #YESSishome campaign is to bring awareness to the intangible and most necessary component of YESS: our staff. Much of our fundraising goes to pay for staff salaries—a cost that is less tangible, but definitely the most impactful. It is YESS staff who provide the warmth, love, connection, and safety of home.

It is our front-line staff who might identify a potential suicide risk and work to create a support plan. They are the ones teaching youth how to cook a healthy meal, do laundry, and buy groceries on a budget. They are the ones giving First Aid and CPR in emergency circumstances. They give hugs, model respectful relationships, teach cleanliness and personal hygiene, and share dating and life advice. During the holiday season, they are the ones planning and creating experiences like dinners and sleepovers and gift openings to create celebrations and fun that we take for granted. And before they do all of this, they work to build trust with kids who have experienced high levels of trauma.

So, our campaign is simple. For YESS youth, YESS is home for the holidays. Help us keep our home full of the family that helps youth from difficult realities heal and move into sustained, healthy independence. Help us continue to make YESS home the whole year round.

Make YESS home for the holidays and all year round with your donation at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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Letter from a Donor

The harsh realities of homelessness can be difficult for the average person to face. We received this touching letter from a donor who was initially startled to meet a homeless youth, but wanted to do right by all young people experiencing homelessness by donating to YESS.

“Late last week my husband entered an ATB vestibule to access the ATM machine, about 2 a.m. He walked in on a young man sleeping on the floor, who was startled into wakefulness. Unsure what to do and concerned, my husband walked out again. The young man followed him out and said, ‘I’m sorry, please go in, I am leaving’. My husband watched him walk away and then went inside. When he told me this story the next day, my heart just broke. We talked about how being so startled and uncomfortable caused him to not act like he normally would.

“If he could go back for a do-over, he would have given the young man his gloves, toque and coat. He would have called me to get up and come over with warm food. We would have asked the young man if we could take him anywhere to be safe and warm.

“That young man said, ‘I’m sorry’. No, no, no, child. We are sorry that you do not have a home where you feel you belong and safe and loved. And that we did nothing to help you, just let you walk away. Alone.”

Thank you to our donors who have made our youth feel seen and loved this holiday season. Your gift will make a difference throughout the year. Give today at yess.org/YESSishome.

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Meet Our Youth: Mariah

I was 18 years old when I had my son. When I found out I was pregnant it was right around the time I stopped drinking/using. I became very dedicated to having my baby. When he was born I never felt so much love in my whole life. I felt this new kind of love. I named him Heyden Ryker and he was born December 15, 2012. My life completely changed after that. I went to Breamar High School for three years and my son went to the Terra day care at the high school.

I struggled so much having to take care of my son. I felt like I was all alone. All of my natural supports were so unhealthy. My family didn’t want to help me and I was carrying the burden of being responsible for the well being of my whole family. I was not only going to school and taking care of my son but also taking care of my whole family. I struggled with domestic violence with my son’s father. It was really hard to be together in this relationship and also try to take care of my son.

The best thing I ever did as a parent was show my son all of the love in my heart. He will be 5 years old this year.  He is so calm and loving and gentle. I lost my son due to the domestic violence. I was unable to give him a safe place and take care of him properly with all of the negative people in my life. I lost my son and then everyone disappeared. No one was there for me when I wanted to try and get him back either. I gave up on everything and myself.

I thought a family was when everyone helped each other out no matter what. I felt like everyone had turned their back on me and I felt so betrayed. My son’s father went to jail around this time and it was the first time that I was alone, in my whole life. Even though my relationships with people might not have been good for me or my son it was the worst thing that could have happened at that time in my life to have no one. The worst thing to feel was being by myself and scared and unable to cope without them.

At that time I found the Armoury and the YESS shelter. I was using and drinking and eventually tried to take my own life. I actually overdosed and was taken to hospital. I just couldn’t deal with the fact that I had tried my very best and no one would help me. The betrayal and abandonment and not having my son in my life took away my ability to care or desire for change. All of the love that I felt when I first had my son was gone and I was angry, bitter and sad. I then became an IV user. I was so gone that I even forgot I was a mother. I didn’t want to feel. I was in this place for about a year long, scrambling around Whyte Ave with a toxic group of people I thought were my friends. YESS was the only place that I had. I would go to the shelter and the staff would remind me that I had a son and they would push me to try and come up with a plan to change my life around.  For a whole year this was a daily occurrence with staff. I was missing my visits and it was because I didn’t want my son to see me that way. I still felt like I wanted to give up but the staff just patiently waited for me to want to shift and change. They told me I didn’t belong on the streets. And I didn’t. I was bullied and used and taken advantage of. My addiction got so bad I didn’t know if I would make it.

I don’t want to focus on my past anymore. I feel like I hold on to a lot of things but I accomplished so much in my treatment programs. I would go to meetings all the time, all throughout the week.  I disciplined myself so strongly because I wanted change. I had enough of Whyte ave and the people I thought were my friends. I had enough of people telling me I couldn’t do it and I couldn’t get my son back. I am so resilient. I always have been but I didn’t see it until I had gone through treatment. I now see myself as someone who helps people and I see myself as a leader. I want to help people, even the ones who hurt me in my past. I want to go to school and I want to do big things with my life. Treatment taught me that there is so much more to life…there is a moment where you tell yourself this is enough and I am done. I had to discipline myself to remind myself EVERY DAY that I did not want to go back to where I was.  I worked so hard to build up all my supports to be where I am today.

It is still so hard. Every day I have thoughts about how easy it would be to go back to the way things were but then I play that tape forward and realize what I would be choosing. All of that is over for me. I can feel it and see it and I am reminding myself. It is a relief that I know I don’t want that anymore. The repetitive cycle of insanity…it can stick with you. I feel like I have a lot of people who really want me to make it. Even when I didn’t think I could. I have people in my life who want to see me be the best person and mother I can be. I only started to see it when I got clean. If I never went through treatment I would not be who I am now.

I needed to go through all of this to be who I am today. It was hard and unfair and I didn’t deserve any of it and I didn’t ask for any of it. I only wanted good for my son. I never saw myself as someone who would end up the way that I did…but it happened. I never saw myself as that person.

Every day I see all the good things in my life. I want to help youth who are going through similar situations.  I want to help youth that struggle because I know it and understand it. I want to be a good role model and lead by example. I don’t want to repeat the cycle of so many aboriginal families. I want to be successful. I want my son to grow up better than I did.

My greatest achievement would be going to high school while I was raising a child. I am now going to upgrade and I only need one more course. I am going to go to Norquest and when I applied I thought I would need so much more upgrading but I only need one course to set myself up to get post secondary education. That is amazing and I am so proud of that.

I also finished 90 days of treatment at Poundmakers and went into the aftercare program and spent 6 whole months in the treatment process. I never wanted to do anything for myself it was always for my boy.  Treatment was for me and I feel so proud of that. I did this for me and no one else and I am clean today and that is a huge accomplishment. I have had my own apartment for a whole year and have done this without any issues…which is so amazing. I will move into a two bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and we will have the second room so that I can get my son back.

If I have to narrow it down to whom I would choose to thank in my life I would say Dolphin from YESS and my boyfriend. I have known Dolphin since I first became homeless. He encouraged me do these goal charts and I was so angry and unwilling but he was so patient and persistent at the same time. Trying to get to know me and help me. I learned how to sit with my feelings and I had never had that before. To help me process what my choices are and why I make them and what I really want to do. He made me angry at first because I did not want to sit with my feelings but then later I would thank him. He was always there and making sure I was okay and reminding me of what I surround myself with. He didn’t give up. I feel so grateful and happy that he came into my life. And my boyfriend, he started in my life as my best friend and now we are together. When we met I was going though all these things and so he knows everything. No matter what he stayed loyal to me. He would help me get to appointments and encouraged me to rebuild my relationship with my son. We would talk about the future. We are finally in a place where we are living out the future that we had envisioned for ourselves. He is so loyal and has been by my side. I never knew someone could love someone as messed up as I was.  He loves my son and wants to be a part of my life and my son’s life and this means the world to me. He really helped me get to where I am today.

My biggest advice to someone who is going through what I went through. Don’t give up on yourself. It is all about whom you surround yourself with. Seek out supports and look through all your resources. Go to meetings and talk to people that have changed and want to change. Learn to love yourself; you would be amazed at what is possible.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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Meet Our Youth: Jude’s Story

Jude lives at Shanoa’s Place, one of our long-term residences that provides a home environment and constant support for youth who are working on big goals like school, sobriety, and employment. Jude sat down with us to tell his YESS story, from being scared and newly homeless to feeling confident and looking towards the future. The connections he built with our staff helped him discover his true self and his goals.

What was life like before you came to Shanoa’s Place?

I was isolated and lonely and scared to rebel against my parents and their religion. My family are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When you first came to Shanoa’s place what was it like?

It was a little scary because I was coming off the streets and I had never been in this situation before, but everyone at the house was very friendly and welcoming.

Can you share one of your first memories of Shanoa’s Place?

I was really sick when I first came to Shanoa’s Place so I immediately went to my room and tried to sleep. I also hadn’t had a private room for a month because I was couch surfing and staying at Nexus [YESS’ overnight shelter]. I remember the occasional screaming and one of the youths knocking on my door saying he wanted to meet the new kid. Little did I know, the screaming came from my roommates yelling at their computer games and my other roommate who just wanted to meet me really bad. I became really good friends with everyone that week.

What are some positive changes that have happened since you’ve been here?

I learned to stand up for myself and I found my self. I learned who I really am and I’m still learning. I’m a lot more confident than before. I’ve also learned how to take care of myself.

How have you learned to take care of yourself?

My parents used to take of everything. They monitored and criticized everything I did. I now have learned how to look for jobs and go to school by myself. I’ve learned how to become motivated.

I also learned how to make friends on my own because I was only ever able to meet Jevoha’s witnesses. I was only allowed to meet “parent-approved friends”.

If you can give advice to younger people who are going through the same thing that you did, what advice would you give them?

Think for yourself. When you’re raised in a certain situation it can be scary to remove yourself from the bubble but you have to think for yourself. I’m infinitely more happy on my own. So do what makes you happy. There isn’t any point in life if you don’t do what makes you happy.

What do see for yourself in the future. What goals do you want to accomplish?

I want to continue to grow and find myself. One day I’d like to have kids of my own and show them that there’s more to life than being a sheep. I want to teach them from a young age to think for themselves. People shouldn’t have to go through all the pain of facing homelessness and being separated from the family in order to think for themselves and make their own choices.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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YESS is Home

YESS is Home

A former YESS youth shares her story

I was a high risk youth, with little to no support. I adore my parents but addiction was and is their biggest struggle. My first experience with homelessness was at twelve years old. I simply stopped going home to physical and verbal abuse and the types of men my mother brought around.

Over the next few years I lived what I knew—drinking and abusing drugs. I lost count of how many times I dropped out of school, or how many times I had hurt myself in some way. I had nowhere to go, and no connections to anybody or any resources. I was not capable of making the changes I needed and was convinced I would not live to see adulthood.

When I found YESS, I was taken in and given a safe place. I was never one to trust easily but something just felt right. A youth worker showed me how capable I was and taught me how to take responsibility for my actions and take control in my life. At YESS I slowly stopped abusing drugs. I was allowed to be sad and I was allowed to be heard. I was allowed to feel; something I had never experienced before. I stopped self-harming and I developed healthy boundaries.

My experience with YESS was life changing. I went from a child finding heroin needles around the house to a young adult with safety, security and a future.

YESS was my home not only during holidays, but also throughout the year. I knew I could always count on them. YESS changes lives; I know it saved mine.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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