Volunteer Interview: The Village

The Village is a volunteer group of 40 community-minded Edmontonians dedicated to supporting the wellbeing of the staff at Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) and their partnering agencies. With wellness and connection being central focus points, The Village aims to be a hive of ideas and activators with innovative ways to emotionally, financially, and even physically support the building of resiliency for the people who are doing such vital work for vulnerable youth in our community.

The Village connected YESS with organizations and individuals through whom we have received hundreds of masks that we use in our programs, including Earthgroove Activewear. They have also worked with our Social Committee, providing gift cards and prizes for staff events.

Learn more about The Village in this interview with members Carmelle Boston, Denise Van Weelden, and Jackie Fetter.

Tell us a bit about yourselves!

Jackie Fetter: I am a wife (Jeff), mother of two incredible children (Josh & Jill), teacher, creator, adventurer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, event creator, doer, and strong supporter of Edmonton, especially those who need support.

Denise Van Weelden: I am professionally a nurse, intuitively a caregiver.  Some of my best work is in the three humans I have nurtured.  I love to travel, slowly, mostly to see how other people live. Volunteering with various non-profits has been some of the most rewarding work of my life.  I am active everyday, loving our Edmonton ravines and valley. 

Carmelle Boston: I have two kids, three dogs and a cat, so obviously patience is my virtue! I got involved in the Village because it truly does take a village to support our youth. My kids are 17 and 20 and the world today isn’t easy to navigate at the best of times.

The Village created and collected hundreds of masks that we currently use in our programs.

How did the concept of The Village evolve?

JF: I first volunteered with YESS in approximately 1995. I have always seen the value of the services that YESS provides. I helped with the Growing Dreams carnival they used to have. Then as fate would have it, a fraternity sister, Margo, became the ED and we reconnected at a mutual friend’s—Denise’s—event. We started to talk and after over a year of discussion on what the needs for YESS were The Village was born! Margo expressed her deep appreciation for her staff and wanting to support them so that YESS can be the best that it can be. Supporting these amazing front line workers who help our most vulnerable was something that immediately inspired me to say “sign me up!” This is a service group built on a desire to actively support the staff of YESS and similar organizations. The Village is exactly a surrounding framework to the amazing work that YESS does. 

YESS reaches out with needs and we find ways to support them.  Our main initiative is to support the staff needs so that they can be at their best to support the youth. We have rallied to make face masks and collect funds to buy gift cards to local businesses around YESS which are being used to keep the staff feeling valued and appreciated during these uncertain times…  We want them to know they are not alone they are doing an amazing job of taking care of the youth—let us take care of dinner,

DVW: I am rich in people and experiences. I count my friends and family as my best treasure, because with them I know anything is possible. I have received kindness and support, and enjoy sharing back to the community. With that in mind, the concept of The Village evolved. How can we harness the wisdom, creativity, and power of our diverse circles? I want the folks of YESS to feel they have such a circle of support like I have known, that is strong and will not let them down. We seek to resource and be the Ways and Means workers, solving whatever obscure needs that may arise.

CB: I got involved with YESS because of Margo Long. Her vision and passion and ability to see the big picture is a game changer for youth in Edmonton. I appreciate how YESS is taking a community, collaborative approach with other partners—it helps to create cohesive systems for all youth.

What is something you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

 JF: For youth to need the services of YESS things have happened that are not in their control and we can’t judge their journey but we can show them that they are important, cared about, valued ,and matter to Edmontonians. They are not alone, that is our job as citizens of this amazing city.

DVW: I wish people paused to remember their own hard or dark days, then imagine you are a youth without healthy supports to manage. Youth deserve enfolding to bridge them thru, believe in them even in the days they don’t believe in themselves. Our investments in youth pay off in healthy adults, healthy parents, healthy caring communities. Invest your efforts where it will yield amazing results.

CB: Intervention and support when kids are most vulnerable and most scared makes the biggest difference. Providing food and shelter helps, but knowing that others in the community care and want to help plays a major part in helping youth overcome their challenges. We all have something we can do—no matter how big or small.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Monthly Donor: Alan Beacham

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Alan Beacham. My wife and I have been married for 50 years and have two grown children. We have lived in in Alberta for most of our lives. I retired from the communications industry several years ago.

What inspired you to start giving to YESS?

 As our kids grew up we welcomed many of their friends and school mates into our home, getting to know a few of them quite well. During that time we came to see the benefits and difficulties that some kids encountered at home, at school, and in their daily lives. We saw that their lives could go off the rails through no fault of their own. Our children went off to further education, met their future partners and started careers and families. We settled in to a routine, but I always wondered what had happened to those young people we had known who had been having a rough time of it. Had they overcome their problems? When I heard about YESS, an organization that helps young people who need mentoring and shelter, I decided to contribute by donating needed items and by helping out financially.

What made you choose monthly giving as your way to give?

My wife and I have attended some open houses at YESS. We’ve seen the facilities and met the amazing staff. Listening to them we came to understand that all donations are welcome, but a steady source of income is important to continue support for youth and to plan for the future. We also heard that government grants come and go. To help give YESS some stability, we decided that we wanted to step up with monthly donations.

What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

I don’t think people realize how vulnerable and at risk young people are when they have had to escape abuse and neglect. I try to remember how it felt to be a teenager. I never had bad things happen to me, but I know I’d have been grateful for a helping hand.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Meet the Youth Education and Employment Team

This story with our Trauma Care Team was originally published in our Spring 2020 newsletter (March 6).

In 2019, YESS launched the Youth Education and Employment Program, a 12-week program that focuses on job readiness skills like cover letter writing and interview skills, workshops for job-specific trainings, and practicum opportunities to help youth identify their career goals. While youth learn work skills, staff provide support and a range of other services to help youth achieve and maintain employment.

This new program is spearheaded by Amanda Van Huenen and Melissa Johnson. Amanda has been a youth worker for eight years and started at YESS in 2018 as a youth worker. Melissa started at YESS in 2015 as a resource worker soon after graduating with her Social Work Diploma. While education and employment have always been part of the focus for youth at YESS, Amanda and Melissa have developed a program that provides intentional career and job training and support all within YESS, so youth don’t have to search out other programs to access these opportunities. This has helped remove barriers for youth who need wraparound support to heal from their trauma and start setting goals for the future.

We sat down with Amanda and Melissa to talk about their experiences in facilitating the first 12-week group of the Youth Education and Employment Program.

Describe the new Youth Education and Employment Program and what it provides for youth.

MJ: The program is 12 weeks. We’re going to do four rounds of it, 16 youth per round. The youth get different tickets, they do different job shadows, they get eight weeks of practicum experience they can put on their resumes, and then we support them move into whatever their goals are, whether that’s education or employment. We help remove barriers to things like work clothes, bus tickets. We’ll provide them with transportation if they need it. All those things that they might not otherwise be able to get on their own. The program has all the support and we’re here all the time if they need anything. We’ve seen a lot of growth already.

AVH: I noticed when I started that there was a gap between youth keeping a job and the skills they need. It was easy to find a job, but a month later they were back at the office saying, “I need to find a new job” or “I need twenty resumes” or things like that. I noticed that gap and I wanted to develop a program that was taking away all those barriers they were facing and give them those tools and the experience of what it is like to be out there working.

[The youth] are getting paid for the twelve weeks. That’s one of the biggest things. It’s helping the youth to start saving or getting housing or finally buying that cell phone that they need to feel safe, so they can make a phone call if something happens. It helps our work in being harm reductive because they don’t have to steal stuff so they can have a sandwich or something. Or maybe they have an addiction and they had to do sketchy stuff for that and now they don’t because now they can provide for it. In a harm reductive way, this program is helping with that.

What are the shadow shift opportunities available?

MJ: We’re trying to have a bank of opportunities to have in a variety of industries based on what the youth are interested in. We want the youth to get into things they enjoy. Landscaping, carpentry, restaurants and kitchens, retail, construction. Those are the big ones.

AVH: Some of our youth are interested in careers, but most of them are looking for entry-level positions.

MJ: The practicums are great in that way. You see youth who think they’re interested in something and then they do the practicum and it’s not really for them. They realize more about themselves.

AVH: We have those conversations with them. We tell them that it’s okay to not know what they want to do. Some of them are very young, fifteen, sixteen. So it’s okay to explore those things. It’s very good for the youth who don’t have a healthy family situation or people who have no home or safety that they can explore these things. It’s very good to have that freedom to do that and not be judged for it. They already get judged for so many other things, right? So to give them that opportunity is good for most of them.

The YESS mission is to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. How do you think the Youth Education and Employment Program is part of that overall vision?

MJ: We really sit down with the youth and we find out what they want and what their goals are. We could plan out a whole life for them and just say “follow this plan.” But we really sit down with them in an interview process, asking them what they want and what they goals are. We’re pushing them towards those goals and we’re there the whole time for support. We’re checking in with them on their practicums, making sure they’re being accountable. But it’s definitely them who lead the way and we give them the resources and remove the barriers so they can accomplish those. And then there’s the “after” support, helping them transition out and integrate into community, so they meet with a transitions worker, they meet with a navigator. They still need to find jobs, go to school, do their resumes, so there’s still a lot of things to do.

AVH: I don’t think of this as just an employment program. We work with the whole team. Everybody here in support services or the trauma team are part of this program. Everyone is putting their hand in—we’re getting referrals here, we’re going there, we have meetings with others. It’s teamwork. Before employment was just focused on employment, but now we’re working as a team.

We have the youth reflect on themselves, give them control over what they want and what their future looks like. And then we work as a team around that to meet those needs, instead of us making those decisions for them. That’s what I like about this program a lot, is that its one big team working towards that program.

What’s something you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

AVH: Their potential. They’re individually unique. They all have something to give. I think a lot of times people see this population as failures, trouble, problems, write them off. That whole negative aspect… They’re just youth. They’re kids. They’re young adults suffering from somebody else’s mistake and we don’t need to constantly put this negativity on them.

MJ: All of our youth have potential and they just need the opportunity. This is the start of an opportunity, but then they need community as well. We need to allow them to be hired at jobs, to be mentored, to be given these things. So having compassion and giving them opportunities because they all have potential. We see so many kids who leave us and go on to be successful in the community and we want more people to help them do that.

Is there a particular remarkable experience you’ve had since launching the Youth Education and Employment Program?

MJ: The youth who we’ve had in our services for a long time, like we’ve had kids who have been here for years, and to see them finally working on something, getting jobs, getting trades tickets, working on resumes, and picturing bigger goals for themselves. I think seeing youth doing that makes this all worth it.

AVH: Because the program’s in-house and specific for our population, to have that develop around them. Every child is different, every child learns differently and it’s the same for our youth. And having such a program that’s created around them makes them feel welcome and like they can succeed.

We have 10 youth graduating from group 1! So that’s a success right there.

If your organization is interested in partnering with our Youth Employment and Education Program as a shadow shift or practicum partner, contact us at 780-468-7070. These opportunities to gain job experience and have a positive, supportive community are a huge part of the healing journey for our youth.

COVID-19 has had a large impact on youth in the Youth Education and Employment Program. We had youth who were unable to finish their work practicums, as well youth that were unable to even start their practicum. Some youth had been doing so well and were being asked to stay on with their practicum as a full-time staff, which unfortunately was unable to happen once COVID-19 forced businesses to lay off most staff. We also had to postpone their graduation from the program as well as the bonus the get once completed. Our group 3 which was to start in March was also postponed until further notice.

With there being limited employment opportunities for anyone during this time it has also made it very difficult for our youth to obtain employment. With no income it is difficult for our youth to work towards their goals including getting a place of their own.


The Youth Education and Employment Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy


Thank you to the Youth Education and Employment Program group 1 and group 2 partners:

Atlantic Fence

Boston Pizza Whyte Ave

Home Depot

Inland Audio and Visual

MC College

Trinity Youth Project

Waiward Industrial

Walk the Talk

YESS Kitchen

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Staff Interview: Armoury Resource Centre Staff

Describe where the Armoury fits in YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journey towards healing.

The Armoury Resource Center (ARC) is a day time drop-in center, where youth come in to get their basic needs met like food and clothing. They also get a safe place to be during the day.

With a focus on youth-led guidance and support, the Youth Workers are ready to assist and guide youth in areas of their life that they are ready to work on and improve without judgement.

By helping youth navigate their own trauma and daily stresses, it helps our Youth Workers build long-lasting, meaningful relationships so that they can better assist our youth with trust, compassion, and acceptance.

The Armoury also assists in employment, therapy, medical needs, employment, education, and housing.

– Shiraz Khan, Supervisor, Armoury Resource Centre

In what ways has the COVID-19 crisis affected youth and staff in the Armoury?

During the COVID-19 pandemic it has put more hardship on youth as they cannot go about their daily routines, as so many establishments are closed to public. It has also halted their progress on getting goals met, which causes more mental health issues to arise.

In a way it has brought Youth Workers and youth together even more. The compliance of many more rules shows the appreciation the youth have for staff. Youth seeing staff show up to work daily, putting aside their fears and concerns shows the commitment and genuine compassion they have for helping our youth.

– Shiraz Khan, Supervisor, Armoury Resource Centre

The obvious way COVID-19 has affected staff has been our sanitization process. I think it is easy for staff (I know I am guilty) to become complacent when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing, so this whole pandemic was a good reminder how important it is to do during our work hours when the youth are present and after they leave. – Nicole Radke, Youth Worker

Overall, everyone is taking the changes in stride. There’s been less hustle and bustle because of the recommendations for those with homes to stay home – inadvertently leading to less communication between staff and those particular youth. It’s been difficult to access, promote, and connect youth with resources as many organizations have limited to no access during the COVID-19 crisis. – Jeremiah Leung, Resource Worker

As a staff member the COVID-19 crisis has made me realize how important services like this are for the vulnerable and how much staff are needed. I feel as a staff this situation has made me more courageous knowing that vulnerable youth need me to provide services during this time. I am able to set aside my fears and come to work everyday, it makes me feel good about myself. Youth also feel like they need more supports and we are here to provide the best way we can. – Patricia Bekkatla, Resource Worker

The COVID-19 crisis has been a very big eye opener for our staff and youth alike. It has shown the strength we have if we stand together as a whole. Our youth have adapted to the new policies and procedures and have shown their strength to overcome adversity as they always do. With COVID-19 on everyone’s minds YESS has taken the necessary precautions to keep our youth and staff team safe and secure while still providing necessary services to our youth. They have taken all the policy changes in stride and as a whole we staff and youth have come together and become a team. Staff at the Armory have been using our kindness and compassion to explain what is going on to the youth; with this it has been very important for us as a staff team to be open and honest with the youth and facing any fears and questions they may have. – Bree Spaan, Relief Worker

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Staff Interview: Tessa Mulcair

Describe where the Armoury fits in YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journey towards healing.

ARC exists to help youth overcome the barriers standing between them and their goals. These goals are sometimes simple, like needing access to food, shelter, and clothing, but are more often quite complex.

When a youth who is struggling with difficult realities like homelessness has big goals, they will face obstacles that most of their peers are not encountering. Most youth have ambitions like getting and keeping a job, living in a home that is safe, or finishing their education, however, attaining these are not straight forward.

Perhaps the youth can’t apply for jobs because they don’t have ID and their parent is refusing to release their SIN or Alberta Health Care number to them. 

Perhaps they save up enough money to get an apartment but they have an awful credit score, no supports in their life that are willing to co-sign, and they have a criminal record from the time they were starving and stole some groceries, so no one is willing to rent to them.

Perhaps they are having difficulty focusing in class because they are dealing with trauma of an abusive home, they haven’t eaten in two days, and don’t have the basic school supplies or internet access that their peers have.

All of these examples are on the easier side of the barriers our youth face, without even diving into the really hard stuff like mental health issues, addiction, gang recruitment, human trafficking, health complications, and internal obstacles like hopelessness, isolation or fear.

No two youth are on the same path. Each has their own complex past, their own strengths, and their own collection of barriers preventing them from attaining their goals. There is no magic formula that our staff could use with every youth, because every youth is so unique. Instead, we strive to walk beside the youth so that we can understand who each youth is and what each youth wants for their own life, only then can we figure out how to meaningfully help them in their journey.

In what ways has the COVID-19 crisis affected youth and staff in the Armoury?

ARC programming has been greatly effectively affected by COVID-19. We have moved to having essential staff only on site in order to protect our youth, who we know have added health vulnerabilities. Because of this much of our in-house programming has stopped or moved to an online format. Staff are constantly searching for ways to meaningfully connect with youth despite distancing. All field trips and recreational activities have ceased because of closed facilities and cancelled events. Our in-house employment program had to be postponed. Much of the work we typically do with youth to meet their goals has also been slowed or halted, with many places we would do referrals to offering limited services or refusing new intakes. In too many cases, that progress is not simply halted but actually moving backwards, youth are losing opportunities they have fought hard to line up.

It feels like our world in on pause, but that’s just not a luxury that our youth have. Staff have to get creative and look for solutions, how do we help our youth move forward when all the doors are closed around them?

What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

I have been actively involved in the youth work field of 20 years, and I still meet youth with stories that are novel, shocking and heart-wrenching. Sometimes just surviving is worthy of a gold medal. I wish you could all see the incredible resiliencies and strengths that every one of our youth has, it’s a privilege to work with them.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Meet the YESS Trauma Care Team

This story with our Trauma Care Team was originally published in our Winter 2019 newsletter.

In 2018, we updated our vision to focus on walking beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing. In 2019, that vision came closer into focus with the introduction of our own internal Trauma Care Team and we want to introduce you to the incredible folks doing the work of helping our youth heal.

Marcia East has a Master’s in Counselling and Social Work and worked with children, youth, and parents for 12 years in Jamaica. When she moved to Canada in 2015, she started working at YESS in our transitional housing program. In her newest role as part of the Trauma Care Team, Marcia facilitates group and family support sessions.

Bethany Zelent has a Master’s of Counselling and Psychology. For the past four years she has worked as an addictions counsellor and she also has experience working with vulnerable populations and people transitioning out of homelessness. Bethany facilitates individual therapy sessions.

Bethany, you were totally new to the YESS team when you started a few months ago. What brought you to YESS?

After working for so long in addictions it was really inspiring to see people reclaim their life after sometimes twenty, thirty years struggling with addiction, but it was also a little disheartening that people had lost so much of their lives to addiction. I wanted to focus more on prevention, working with people in the early stages because I saw with the women I was working with if they had had intervention in and around the time when the addiction started that they could have been saved a lot of pain. So that was a huge motivation for me to focus more on kids and youth. Also seeing the limbo that youth are in in terms of accessing services. A lot of times they are either too young for services or not bad enough—there’s this weird line where you have to have a certain number of struggles but not so bad that you’re outside an agency’s scope of practice.

How do you feel your work contributes to the YESS vision of walking beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing?

BZ: That, to me, is the pinnacle of what we do. I think one of the key words in there for me is “beside,” that we’re not behind, we’re not in front of, and that goes along with our own therapeutic model that the client is the expert in their own life.

ME: Being an ally to youth is a significant part of my own vision in working with people from difficult realities. It is of utmost importance to remember that the population I work with have experiences which are rooted in trauma and, therefore, their behaviours will reflect that truth. I am cognizant of the space that I create for them – one that will facilitate safety and care and encourage movement towards finding the true self.

BZ: There are symptomologies of their traumatized experiences. And that’s what we really target: that trauma is the problem, behaviour is not. Behaviour is a symptom of the trauma. We can do behavioural techniques all day long and they might work on the outside, but there won’t be lasting change because the tree is still rotten. The foundation of it is still trauma. Trauma finds really creative ways to express itself in all sorts of ways.

Marcia, in your role in leading and facilitating group sessions, how have you seen the program evolve over the last few months?

ME: Initially, it was very slow in starting. Now it is becoming a little more stable as group sessions are being offered in the residential programs and youth are warming up to the idea.

Bethany, how have you seen your side of the trauma program—individual counselling—evolve since it started?

BZ: I think there was a healthy level of skepticism from youth at the beginning. The youth have so many reasons not to trust me and I view that as my role, that I have to prove myself as trustworthy. Since we first started there has been a huge level of acceptance from the youth and the staff working together in that. The youth see going to therapy as a viable option for them; they don’t see it as something they have to go somewhere else for. It has become much more normalized, just like going to the doctor is here, just like getting their ID, just like going to the employment program, it’s a very normal thing. One of the best things with therapy, and this is outside of YESS as well, is word-of-mouth advertising. It’s very powerful. I notice that when a few youth would come, more youth would be interested. That is something that’s really important too is for them to be able to say, “I see a change in my friend. I would like that change as well.” I think there’s more openness to taking down the stigma for mental health as well, being able to ask for the help they need, and our regular presence here helps them know that we’re the trauma team.

What’s something you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

BZ: I think one of the biggest things is to remind them that they are youth. That a lot of the behavioural expressions we see are really, really normal for an adolescent to do. It is very normal. Oftentimes because [YESS youth] are in a position of being independent, we kind of project adult expectations onto them, but they physiologically don’t have the brain development to be able to meet those expectations because they are teenagers. A lot of the behavioural expressions that we see like substance use, like stealing—those are all very normal for any adolescent across any socioeconomic status and we cannot hold youth to a higher standard than what their brain can occupy. We certainly can’t hold traumatized individuals to a standard that is higher than what they can actively do and we can’t hold traumatized youth to a standard that’s beyond what their capacity is. I think that’s what I would focus the most on is that they’re still adolescents.

ME: Also that our youth are not “choosing” to remain in difficult situations. They are being impacted by the traumas of their past and they are doing their best to cope with these realities, and are struggling to be resilient despite their history.

Is there a particular remarkable experience you’ve have at YESS?

ME: My most recent remarkable experience comes from working with a youth who struggles with anger issues. I am encouraged by his determination to summon his inner resources for the work he is doing.  I am also inspired by the effort and energy he is investing and note how the successes he experiences serve to build his self-efficacy and to further strengthen his resolve.

BZ: In starting therapy I usually ask the client how they feel and then I ask them again at the end so we can track if there’s a change and how our process is going. I started one session with a client who said he felt suffocated from anxiety. He indicated that there was a lot of tension in his chest. We ended up having a two and a half hour session and at the end he said that was the most relaxed he had ever been in his entire life and that he had this feeling of calm where there had been tension. I don’t take any credit for that whatsoever. I think that’s primarily his own work. It is really cool to be a witness to people’s journeys and processes. That he was able to sit with himself for those two and a half hours and attend to himself and be present in a way that he is normally trying to escape. That is amazing.

In the wake of the  COVID-19 crisis, there have been some updates to the way the Trauma Care Team works with youth.

The manner in which we offer therapeutic and supportive services have primarily shifted from face-to-face to virtual modalities. For example, individual and group sessions are being carried out through means of video and telephone media, instead of meeting in a physical space. Currently, we have ceased walk-in therapy and new client intakes, as we are trying to figure out the best approach in facilitating these needs within our current context of operations. Program visits have also shifted to using online means, in reaching youth as well.

The difficulty of using online platforms for therapeutic purposes is that it decreases the ability to support youth in a therapeutic space and provide immediate trauma support for panic attacks, emotional regulation and more.  The youth are not able to connect as well, via video conference or teleconferencing, which doesn’t allow for the full support they may need in the moment.  It is also not easy to build up trust and relationships via video or telephone and therefore, even with this technology available, we are having to adapt our delivery and services to help support the youth who need it.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Daytime Resource Centre

The Armoury Resource Center is a vital space for our youth because it is a safe space to have autonomy, choice, and safety without judgement. Developmentally, youth are emotionally needing to have autonomy and control over their lives and choices while rationally still needing support and guidance from parents to use their emotional decision-making skills in a healthy and productive way. It’s a complex time that precariously balances their emotional wants with the practical expectations of school, home or community.

The Armoury Resource Center is a place where youth can come and breath and take a moment to focus their energy and time on what is needed to survive that day. They have the autonomy and choice to identify where they are at and what they need in that moment.  This could be accessing support workers for questions or answers, access resources available to meet their goals, having a place to stay safe when the outside world is scary or threatening, or even just finding a place to connect with other human beings without judgement.  As trauma affects the development of the youth, the resource center has to adapt to ensure that we are there to walk beside the youth as they try to understand, accept and navigate this trauma they have experienced. The biggest strength to ARC is that we help build up trust and relationships with the services and systems that our youth have to exist within, whether it’s medical needs, mental health needs, children’s services, government supports, income supports, education, or more. We help them understand their fears and traumas with these services and build up capacity to navigate these systems, all within a safe space they can breathe in.

When COVID-19 hit our communities, places like our ARC are even more vital because most hangouts and safe spaces closed and shut off access to safety zones for the youth. Whether needing space from unsafe families, or needing a place to hide from unsafe peers, or finding a space that will occupy and entertain you while you build up the capacity to make changes in their lives; youth need a place they can exist and still feel safe and supported. Having online programming and resources available across the community is amazing, but it means nothing if it is not accessible. In COVID-19, our focus had to adapt and shift to finding ways to be accessible for the youth; to help them have access to spaces to have accesses to resources or basics needs. Having the ARC opens means we are reducing the youth’s exposure to community contact with COVID-19 and still meeting their developmental needs.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Staff Interview: Tiffany Sorensen

Describe where Supportive Housing fits in YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journey towards healing.

The Supportive Housing is a step between shelter and independent living, in which staff teach youth how to prepare for living on their own.  Staff work with youth to learn life skills, while supporting their basic needs.  There can be so much trauma around food for our youth, including potentially hoarding food or demonstrating other behaviours that indicate food insecurities.  As the Program Kitchen Coordinator, I work with staff and youth to make sure they understand food safety, nutrition, and learn basic kitchen life skills to prepare them for their transition.  I teach various food related skills to the youth in programs, in a sustainable and secure way to encourage a sense of felt safety for the youth and this basic need.  I try to empower youth to have a voice and a choice as to what they would like to eat, whether that be when making the weekly menus, or when celebrating their birthdays with a special homemade meal request.  These are all ways of creating healthy relationships and safe spaces for youth in our programs.

In what ways has the COVID-19 crisis affected youth and staff in Supportive Housing?

We have really seen youth and staff in Supportive housing come together during this time to stay as safe as possible. 

What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

I wish the community knew that YESS youth are human, currently experiencing hard things and yet they are continuing to grow and thrive.  People tend to take basic needs for granted in their daily lives and forget that food is not always accessible, secure, or sustainable, neither is shelter.  Compassion and kindness can make a huge difference in someone’s life.  When judgements get pushed aside, it can be truly amazing to see connections formed over food or a meal at the table.  

COVID-19 has restricted programming and access to food options for a lot of youth.  Going to the grocery store for essentials is a life skill that our youth were developing, with support, prior to COVID-19.  It creates another barrier and level of trauma to now understand what essential shopping needs are, how to navigate the social expectations of distancing within the stores and how to budget properly during this isolation time.  Tiffany has partnered with the local Edmonton Food Bank to help build and provide hampers of food for the youth who cannot come and access food resources during isolation.  This partnership has helped our youth develop pathways to food resources for the future, but also supported them in the immediate COVID situation to ensure that they have what they need to stay safe, isolated and supported.

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Supportive Housing

When we talk of youth experiencing homelessness, we forgot that it means more than having a roof over their head or access to food or water. The complexity that comes with ensuring that a youth is safe, secure, and supported goes far beyond the walls that surround them. The supportive homes that we offer provide a physical stability for the youth, but also help the youth understand their own complex needs in a tailored, at-their-own-pace way.

The role of a parent in our society is to patiently walk beside a youth as they navigate new experiences and skills, helping them understand that it’s OK to make mistakes and try again. Within the supportive homes, and with the help of the supportive services staff, we can provide a safe place for youth to make an effort for success and for youth to find dignity in making mistakes or struggling. Trauma is complex and is even more so when added to complex journey of adolescence. And yet, our youth and our staff don’t give up! They wake up every day and they do what they need to do to move forward and to achieve their goals. We cannot ask our youth to step into the world of independence without recognizing and addressing the many supportive steps needed to get there.

When COVID-19 hit our communities, the supportive homes became a necessity for our youth. Most individuals in the community, when asked to isolate, head to their homes, their apartments, their rooms, or their garage or RV to isolate from others, but also have access to safety, stability and basic needs. Without the supportive homes, a lot of our youth would not have safe spaces to exist. Families are complex and not all homes are emotionally and physically prepared to address the trauma of a pandemic and how it affects the family dynamics. Youth need the support, but they first and foremost need to be safe: safe to isolate, safe to express their mental health needs while isolated, and safe to still work on their goals. Our staff are trained and ready to provide this support and it has been incredible to watch them step up and adapt to the needs of the youth. And when there is capacity for us to take steps towards building skills or meeting goals, our supportive staff are willing and able to adapt the programming and resources available to them. 

Jessica Day
Director of Program Innovation
Youth Empowerment and Support Services

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Staff Interview: Delalie Mortotsi

Describe where Supportive Housing fits in YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journey towards healing.

Supportive Housing Programs walks beside youth on their journey towards healing by providing a home-like environment where youth can feel supported and cared for. This is achieved through a team effort by a dedicated group of staff who include Youth Workers and House Parents, Client Navigators, Trauma Therapists, Employment Coordinators, a Program Kitchen Coordinator, and a Transition and Cultural Worker. We work in a coordinated effort to provide youth with their basic needs such as nutritious food, clothing, and shelter. We support youth to develop skills such as cooking, budgeting, job searching, and interview skills. We walk along youth in learning strategies and helping them achieve the future they have envisioned for themselves. With 24/7 staff present, youth are given the opportunity to make mistakes or thrive with a support system in place. We are consistently connecting youth to community resources that are relevant to their eventual successful transition – whether that’s returning home, finding appropriate housing, or independence.

In what ways has the COVID-19 crisis affected youth and staff in Supportive Housing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly changed the way we go about work and life in the Supportive Housing Programs. At the beginning of the crisis, we closed one of the two houses and moved all youth into one house- moving and transitions are never easy for anyone and are especially hard for youth who have experienced trauma. However, our youth have adapted well and quickly and are now enjoying their new home. We have had to introduce extra safety measures to protect youth and staff in the program as well such as providing gloves and face masks for use in the home and community, having youth complete daily self-assessments, providing extra cleaning supports, etc.

The uncertainty of this pandemic has caused a great deal of anxiety to our youth and staff. Consistency and predictability are some of the things that help youth who have experienced trauma navigate the world a little easier, and the COVID-19 crisis has made those two things challenging to maintain in the program as things change daily. To combat this and maintain some “normality” within the home, we have continued to provide some programming within the home- we provide laptops for youth to join their classmates online school and our team have become teachers to help. We have youth trying to achieve their goals despite all odds and a great team of staff who are working tirelessly to help them meet their self-appointed deadlines.

What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

Our youth wake up every day and do the best they can with what they have. Some days they are strong and resilient and some days not so much. When someone experiences trauma and have little to their name it’s how they decide to heal that shows their strength. Our youth have a tremendous amount of strength.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

Donate Now!

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