A Reflection from Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation at YESS
When I first heard we were applying for this grant, it was while we were in the midst of sorting through the hurt and emotions and confusions within our community and neighbourhood on Whyte Ave. YESS has been working directly with EPS, the City of Edmonton, and several community members to try and heal the relationships between our agency, the youth who use our services, and the neighbours who live near our shelter. It was not my first instinct to consider the Community Safety and Well-being Grant because we were still working on some very real safety concerns on both sides. I didn’t quite know how to market our shelter as meeting the criteria for developing safety within communities as a whole; we weren’t there yet. Grants are a funny process, in that you either have to develop something innovative to convince funders to believe in your project idea, or you have to have established a system of work that is worth investing in for sustainability. Healing with the community did not feel innovative, as we have had to address this in years prior. It also didn’t feel established because I did not know if we had a framework for practice that we could market to others.
It was equally confusing to me when I found out that the City of Edmonton partners and community members had insisted that we apply for the grant, as they felt we were already doing so much to establish the safety and well-being in the community and wanted to support our cause. They spoke to the efforts of our teams to communicate with the youth, host youth forums, tear down camps in the ravine, the collaborative relationships with EPS and the City and the neighbours, hosting meetings, and approaching the issues with a trauma-informed, educational lens. While it started from hurt and chaos, the community was starting to see and understand the work we were doing daily and the efforts done to inspire changes to keep the community safe while we do our work. They had been listening and paying attention and, in the process, wanted to help us sustain this work. I was humbled and I remember the executive team pausing to reflect on this before we gave the green light to apply.
When we heard that we had been accepted as one of 26 grant recipients, we were beyond excited! It was good news and a lot of money that would directly support the sustainability of our Nexus 24/7 sleep shelter. This would help us give youth a soft place to sleep and change the trajectory of their trauma, while also having space and capacity to help educate and support the community so future integration for youth is a possibility. This meant a lot to our team. We were equally excited to attend the formal announcement event with the Mayor and the City of Edmonton counsellors at the Islamic Family and Social Services Association. My fellow Director of Finance, Eddie Gots, and I were asked to attend as Margo was off on vacation and this was our first time attending a grant event like this together. We were proud, excited, and ready to share our vision of what this money could provide to our agency!
At the event, the experience was much bigger than a press event with some finger foods and networking. It was a humbling experiencing to see the number of organizations represented within the room, showing the power and desire for collaboration within our city. The interview was conducted by the Mayor, city counsellors, and the largest collaboration recipients (Islamic Family and Social Services collaborating with Bent Arrow) who spoke so eloquently about welcoming newcomers to Edmonton and reminding the world that, “Padlocks do not create safety in communities. Safety comes from potlucks and meeting your neighbours.” Potlucks not padlocks was a profound summary of the many projects and groups within that room and it was inspiring to be part of it. We ran into many staff whom we have worked with in the past or in current collaborations and we were all able to celebrate and cheer each other on. It was the first time, in many years, where the focus was on who was working together and how can we connect? Not who was the best or brightest in the room. People were proud of who they were partnering with and the reasons for these partnerships were inspiring. We didn’t feel diminished, we felt included and connected and, after COVID, I was scared we wouldn’t feel this way again.
When I reflect on what this grant and event meant for YESS, I think about how hard we work to establish policies and processes that educate and innovate the pathways to healing from trauma. For staff, for youth, for community members, or for partners. We belong at the table, amongst our peers, not standing on a soapbox fighting for space. And when I reflect on how the community believed in this before we did and how aligned this collaborative work was with the other recipients, I was again humbled by how transformation really does happen through relationship and collaboration. We are all partners in this system and we learn so much from the cultures of and within collaborations and we are stronger for it, not diminished. I was inspired and I learned, and I know we will work even harder to live up to these standards. What makes me even happier is that we will bring as many people along the journey as we can. Because padlocks don’t build communities, potlucks do!