April’s Newsletter theme is rest. While it seems obvious—that we all need rest—it is often the last thing we take for ourselves. Leaders, with huge responsibilities and priorities… need rest and a pause to recharge. Children and youth, who are growing their bodies and brains and learning how to relate to themselves and others… need rest. Rest is time for regrowth, rebuilding, and regeneration—A perfect focus for April as we wait so anxiously for our glorious Summer. In this issue, we hear from YESS Youth Workers about the importance of sleep and our new Sacred Space at the Armoury Resource Centre. We highlight our United Way Community Partners and give you a little glimpse into our staff celebration. Finally we shine our donor spotlight this month on our friend Louise Davis and we say thank you to our friends at Ron Hodgson.
The team from Dutch Delicious started volunteering with us in the summer 2019. About once a month they would lend their hands to helping in the kitchen or doing some much-needed outdoor work at our buildings. For their annual “For the Love of Opa” event in 2019, Dutch Delicious selected YESS as their charity of choice, donating 50% of the event day’s sales which came to over $3000.
When the pandemic interrupted their volunteering schedule, the Dutch Delicious team was still eager to help with outdoor work in the summer, following all necessary health protocols.
“I am just so proud of all the work and service to our community that Siebe and his staff have done for YESS,” says our Volunteer Programs Officer. “I feel even though they are a small group they really achieved so much and always exceeded my expectations, so willing to help.”
Tell us about your organization and how you came to volunteer at YESS.
My first interaction with YESS was at the Ice on Whyte festival. Beside the booth we had as bakery was a coffee stand that was run by volunteers of YESS. A kind older gentleman helped to serve coffee and we chatted regularly, and he even ended up coming to the bakery as a regular customer. During this time we were working on the branding of our company and chose the line “Nourishing Community.” We thought it fitting to have this line connected to our company and the tasks we perform on a daily basis. One leader at the bakery said rightly one day: “Why don’t we really show our true colors and actually go out into the community to help out?” It was then that we met up with our friend and asked for contact details from YESS.
Why did you choose to volunteer at YESS and how do you see your impact as a volunteer?
Although we started because of our connection through a customer, we are blessed to make a difference for YESS as an organization as a whole. Originally we signed up with the kitchen to be helpful in the food area, since we do food as well. Learning that our tasks are not about us but ultimately about the youth you serve, we decided to be blessed as long as we could do anything to minimize the wish list of the organization as a whole. So painting railings, pulling weeds, shoveling snow all helps to have your staff take better care of the youth. In this way we see the youth better served because we could take care of the little things for you.
What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?
We as a company really wish that people knew more about the trauma of these youth. With that we can see how much good the organization does as a whole to heal, nourish, and prevent the youth from pain points and danger.
Celebrations are an important part of our lives. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events with our friends and families. National Philanthropy Day is celebrated on November 15 each year by YESS and dozens of other agencies in Edmonton, across Canada, and even around the world. This year we have nominated three of our donors for special recognition on National Philanthropy Day. They joined us at the Shaw Convention Centre where the Association of Fundraising Professionals hosted a feast and a fete for hundreds of donors from Edmonton organizations. Please join us in thanking our nominees for their extensive and expansive support of homeless youth in our community.
Simons has become deeply invested in taking action through YESS’ Interactive Art program and has made a powerful impact in our youth’s lives. Thanks to our long-term partnership with Simons, the Interactive Art Program was developed and continues to mentor and build the talents of our youth. When they find an art form they are passionate about they are able to use it as a tool to express themselves, learn new things, and set new goals—all skills that can change their lives. Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations at Simons West Edmonton Mall, tells us, “We feel very strongly that reaching out at this level is a small step in advancing the confidence of youth. It allows them to express feelings through their work that they might not be able to verbalize with others. Art is a voice that can never be silenced. Art is a voice that needs to be heard.”
For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!
The REALTORS® Community Foundation
For 26 years, The REALTORS® Community Foundation has both inspired and encouraged Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) in its delivery of supports and programs for our youth. The team began in 1994 with their Edmonton Bike Nights and Ride for Kids community fundraisers, sponsorship of our annual Golf Classic. We have been the beneficiaries of their time and unique skills with volunteering. They’ve given the gift of enhanced safety to our kids with their investment in the security system upgrades at our Armoury Resource Centre (ARC), pride of home with the upkeep and renovations of our buildings, caring comfort with new furniture within our programs. And, their most recent investment in our Art Therapy Program will help to facilitate connection, self-expression and healing for our youth. The REALTORS® Community Foundation continues to weave a lasting, sustainable legacy within our organization, the lives of our youth, and the community at large. YESS is so grateful for the support of the REALTORS® team for helping to shape our future and strengthen the critical supports for our youth as they they address they address life-changing trauma and homelessness.
“The REALTORS® Community Foundation has proudly supported YESS since 1989 and in 26 of the last 31 years. Their tremendous compassion for youth facing homelessness in the Edmonton Area is evident in their programs and facilities. By meeting youth where they’re at and offering diverse programs, youth of many backgrounds and interests are able to connect to positive paths forward, empowering them to achieve their goals and contribute to a strong, vibrant future for our community. The Foundation has committed to a three-year pledge to YESS in support of their continued efforts to support youth in our city which will bring total giving to the organization to over $300,000 upon fulfillment. REALTORS® care about the communities in which they live and work; through the Foundation they invest in charities, such as YESS, who are doing the important work so needed to create opportunities for all community members to thrive.”
Throughout the course of the pandemic, it has been hugely important to us that there be minimal interruption to YESS programs. Not just shelter and food access, but also those programs that create spaces where youth can heal from trauma, such as our Interactive Art Program. We talked to Hollis Hunter, Artistic Programming Facilitator, about the impact this program has on youth on their journeys towards healing.
Tell us about yourself and your position as the Artistic Programming Facilitator at YESS.
Hello! My name is Hollis Hunter. I graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spring 2020. My personal practice and research revolve around identity politics: I navigate the challenging and rewarding question of how to visually represent 2SLGBTQ+ identities, communities, bodies, and experiences. As the Artistic Programming Facilitator at YESS, I engage with our youth in daily creative activities and work behind-the-scenes to connect youth artists to broader arts opportunities.
Tell us about the objectives of the art program.
The primary goal of the art program is to be youth-led. I spend most of my time working through “How do I best meet youth requests?” and “How do I approach youth or make myself approachable so that they can make requests?” This is always fun because one youth starting a project always entices more to join. What the youth want to gain from the art program is what it needs to be providing. Every secondary goal, such as a consistent programming schedule, or regularly restocked supplies, is centered around this. You cannot be successful in helping youth without them participating or having their wants and needs met by the program.
Hot Dog Octopus sculpture
What is it about art that makes it a powerful medium for healing?
Art is a tool for building connections. Engaging in arts activities goes beyond “making things” to learning new skills, building relationships, communicating ideas and emotions, and holding mind-body connection. Access to art programming allows youth a new path to connect with support staff, each other, and broader communities and opportunities. The art program provides youth with a medium to cope with difficult life circumstances, earn supplemental income, create archival objects, and participate in meaningful large-scale collaborative projects.
I have kids participate that are currently high, in psychosis, or emotionally coping with crises in their life. They choose to sit down and funnel their energy into a physical action like writing or colouring, and often end up calm and controlled in their ongoing interactions. I get to write contact notes about dreams, passions, relationships, and talents onto youth files full of contact notes listing conflict, abuse, substance use, and authorities; this program gives youth the space to safely be themselves.
What have been any remarkable projects/experiences you’ve had so far in the program?
I am constantly astounded by our youth. Every day I get to learn about their character, experiences, and what they can do. Every time I take out a new medium or project, there are youth that I would never have expected to be interested in art, and the things they make are amazing. My favorite thing is when youth make things that are silly and less serious or focus on playing with materials and trying new things. One youth LOVED rock painting because they got to use the natural shape of the rocks to help decide what they wanted to turn them into. Another youth was getting help to patch their jeans, and I brought out sewing machines so that we could dive deeper into their fashion interests. Sewing art programming happened for nearly a month straight because a lot of youth were really into hand-sewing, machine sewing, and embroidering jeans, hats, bags, and cotton face masks. There is so much value in learning textile and sewing skills, because it helps us protect, embellish, and cherish our clothes.
Abstract work in progress
What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?
This question puzzled me at first because “community” is a broad term with lots of overlap. Youth who access YESS are part of countless broader social, spiritual, recreational, and school communities. No matter what difficult life circumstances our youth are facing, they bring their unique strengths and qualities with them. It is so important to recognize that we are all going through hardships, and that the best way to heal and grow is to make room for collective care. The more that I can show up and show care for our youth, the more they can show up for themselves and others. This is how we make sure that those of us who are surviving and hurting day-to-day have space to be safe, heal, and grow.
The Interactive Art Program is proudly sponsored by Simons, who have interwoven the effect, power, and vision of art within their own culture since 1840. The Simons family share a deeply held love and affinity for the arts, and feel strongly about helping talented young people access the possibilities to be found while exploring multiple disciplines.
“In these exceptional times it is our hope that the Interactive Arts Program continues to provide youth with an opportunity to engage their creativity, continue their path to hope and healing and celebrate their strength and courage through the visual arts,” says Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations for Simons WEM.
In 2020, The REALTORS® Community Foundation joined Simons as a funder of the Interactive Art Program. Their support empowered us to take the artistic programming facilitator position from part-time to full-time.
“The REALTORS® Community Foundation has proudly supported YESS since 1989 and in 26 of the last 31 years. Their tremendous compassion for youth facing homelessness in the Edmonton Area is evident in their programs and facilities. By meeting youth where they’re at and offering diverse programs, youth of many backgrounds and interests are able to connect to positive paths forward, empowering them to achieve their goals and contribute to a strong, vibrant future for our community.”