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Meet Our Youth: AB

AB grew up in an abusive home. Soon they resorted to sleeping at friends’ places and sleeping outside. The first time they came to YESS was on a night when it was too cold to sleep outside.

“It was actually a lot better than I expected. I met staff who talked to me about my experiences and made me feel a bit better,” says AB. “They encouraged me to stay in school while I was staying in shelter. It was nice to have this place that I knew was a good option for me.”

YESS staff helped AB find housing and AB is now living in a group home environment where they can learn the basics about living on their own. AB’s most defining experience at YESS was feeling supported to not just feel safe, but also move forward. With their basic needs met in a safe place with good people who care, AB felt empowered to set goals and make plans to accomplish them.

“My goals are to love myself,” says AB. “I have not done a good job at this in my life and the people around me growing up didn’t help with this either, but I’m working on it. It takes such small steps to change how you see yourself.”

AB sees a future in helping people who have been in the same situations AB has experienced. Like many other YESS youth, AB feels they could help others experiencing homelessness because they understand how those people feel. If AB could give someone experiencing homelessness advice now, what would they say?

“I would say hang in there and listen to the people who are saying they want to help you figure out how to help yourself,” says AB. “I would say you can get through this, but you have to focus on staying clean and go to treatment if you need to. And deal with the stuff that happened to you as a kid and talk about it with a therapist or a counsellor and release it all.”

AB has been so strong and committed to their goals. What would they say is their greatest accomplishment?

“Living my life has been an accomplishment. It is so hard sometimes and the fact that I’m still here is a big deal,” says AB. “I don’t know what I’m going to do [when I finish school and get a job] but as I go through each step I feel more confident about the next one.”

We are so proud of AB and all the hard work they’ve put towards their goals and their healing. It is truly inspiring to see AB apply what they’ve learned about self-love and use that as their momentum to move forward.

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Letter from Margo – Spring 2019

Welcome Spring and hello friends of YESS!

You have most likely seen YESS use the #healtogether social media “hashtag” over the last 8 months. We at YESS have been trying to highlight just how important community and healthy connections are to solving the root issues facing the vulnerable youth in our city, but we also want to highlight how important community and connection is for every single one of us. 

When we connect in a healthy, honest, and compassionate way, we all heal… together. Neglect, abuse, addiction, hate, and discrimination are easily grown and passed on if people are isolated and viewed as “others” or “them”.  This is true in business, political, and social communities just as much as it is for vulnerable or marginalized groups. We at YESS have been working very hard to be better collaborators: to be more transparent, honest, and understanding with our partner youth-serving agencies, with our funders, with our community partners, and ourselves. It is hard work to change habits and put down bias, but the effort feels good and we believe the connection is helping and even healing us. We know we are doing the right thing. We know that we can only truly serve and walk alongside our hurt young people together

And, if we may, we ask this of you, our beloved community. Join us in healing together. Join us in having honest, compassionate conversations, and connect with us, with young people, and with each other in meaningful ways. This is the way to make a difference. 

Because, when it all comes down to it, we are all underneath the great beautiful stars in our sky… and we all belong. 

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature
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The YESS Kitchen Nourishes the Soul

At YESS our vision is to walk beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. This doesn’t just apply to youth workers in Programs—it applies to every department across YESS! And just like many other folks would say about their own homes, what happens in the kitchen is a huge part of the heart of our work at YESS.

We sat down with YESS Chef Scott Iserhoff to talk about his experiences in creating a space where youth can heal through his culinary calling. Scott studied culinary arts and hotel management in Ontario and has been a chef for over 15 years. But his love of food and community goes back farther than that.

“Cooking is an integral part of my Indigenous culture. My first exposure to food was through eating wild meat with my family and smoking goose over the fire with my grandparents,” says Scott.

How does Scott bring this same powerful feeling he first experienced in childhood to his work at YESS?

“In my culture we say that food is medicine,” says Scott. “Not only does it feed your body, but it also carries a strong sense of community and hard work. Preparing food for others can also be seen as ceremony. It feeds your spirit.”

Almost half of the youth who access YESS identify as Indigenous and Scott takes every opportunity he can to share culture and connection with all our youth.

“Being an Indigenous person and being present in the space of YESS contributes to many youth who are also Indigenous feeling more represented, safer, and having someone to relate to,” says Scott. “This also extends to cooking, where I have the chance to share my cultural dishes with the youth, providing many of them with comfort and connection through food.”

Last year we announced that our focus would move more towards trauma-informed care. This has started to reach out from youth programs to touch other areas of YESS to align all teams with what it means to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing. This includes the kitchen in a major way.

“Food is one of the top resources we need to secure for our kids in trauma care and if we cannot reassure our kids that they will always have food, we will never get to the root of their trauma,” says Cherish Hepas, Kitchen Supervisor. “In a small way we add to a positive experience for our youth on a daily basis through food. It has been a joy to watch them literally eat their hearts out. Trauma-informed care will be a fantastic tool to help our kids. It’s going to be an exciting time for the agency as we embark on this new form of care.”

In his two years at YESS, Scott has impacted hundreds of young lives through food and culture, making YESS a safe and healing space for youth who have experienced trauma. What has Scott taken away from the time he has spent with youth?

“The most remarkable experiences for me are connecting with youth over food and hearing about what they’ve enjoyed or what food they’d like to try in the future,” says Scott. “I wish that more people were aware of homelessness in our city and the huge gaps in resources that still exist, as well as the prejudice and stigma that our youth have to face on a daily basis. With more awareness hopefully there will be more understanding and positive change.”

The special way that YESS chefs Scott, Reddy, and Cherish honour their work in the kitchen shows in the ways our youth experience food, build trust, and heal through relationships.

“This kitchen was given to me as a gift from my predecessor. I treat it like a very special gift. I teach my staff to treat it like a gift,” says Cherish, “That is what walking beside our youth is like. It’s a window into their souls. If this kitchen can somehow touch one of those beautiful souls through food, we will have added a little light in whatever darkness they battle. And that is what food is in the end. Something that truly nourishes.”

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Winter Recipe from The Organic Box

The Organic Box provides hundreds of dollars’ worth of produce to our kitchens every week. They have also shared their passion for helping our youth with their Food Family initiative, which has led to donations of over $13,000.

 

Winter Vegetable Strata

Adapted from The Kitchen Paper (thekitchenpaper.com)

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed (1″)

1 tsp olive oil

salt and pepper

2 tbsp butter

1/2 cup shallots, minced

2 bunches kale, chopped (2 cups)

8 cups crusty bread, cubed (1″)

1 tbsp grainy mustard

1 tbsp fresh thyme

10 eggs

2 cups half & Half cream

1 Cup gruyere, shredded

2/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped, for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Toss butternut squash with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet until fork-tender (20ish minutes).
  2. In a heavy-bottom skillet, melt the butter and add the shallots. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Whisk together mustard, thyme, eggs, and 1/2/ & 1/2. Set aside.
  4. Arrange the bread, squash, kale mixture and cheese in layers in the skillet, reserving a handful of cheese for topping.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over everything in the pan. Let the bread absorb the eggs for a few minutes (up to an hour in the fridge).
  6. Reduce the oven to 350. Cook the strata for 45-55 minutes, or until the center is no longer wobbly. Add the reserved cheese and broil for a minute to crisp everything up.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes, top with hazelnuts and serve.
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Meet Our Youth: Tom’s Story

My name is Tom and I am 21 years old. My girlfriend’s mother took me to the YESS Shelter about three years ago. I was in a real emotional state and I was new to homelessness. I accessed the Shelter and the Armoury Resource Centre for a decent amount of time. I would be dead if it wasn’t for YESS. This is so serious, and it is not a joke. I want to say thank you to anyone that plays any sort of role at this organization. I know that sounds vague but it is true. YESS helped me realize that I wasn’t just born to be a homeless person. That has been the hardest thing for me to do, is to change that mindset. When you are homeless it feels like you are worthless. Every day I am working to get rid of those feelings. The staff at YESS, they care. When you are homeless it feels like no one else in society cares and getting over those feelings is still a struggle. So yeah, the staff at YESS, they help save people.

My greatest accomplishment has been getting clean. I have had 4 overdoses and honestly, I just happened to get found. For some people they don’t get found and they die. I saw these things happening to the people around me and to myself. I watched my girlfriend basically die and then get revived. The effects of drug addiction are all the same and it is all terrible and it doesn’t matter what drugs they are. People need to know how serious that is.

For my future, I see general happiness, which is really nice. Five years ago it would have been impossible for me to say that. I have been with my girlfriend now for 3.5 years and the only condition for our relationship is that we are both clean. As long as I am not on drugs, I am happy. And I am doing that now. I will also always be thankful to my girlfriend’s parents. They did everything they could to help get me sober and they did all the hard stuff, the stuff that made me hate them, but they stuck by me, and us.

The daily connection to resources at YESS helped me prove to people that I was working on things. The bus passes that they provided helped me so much. Honestly, the ability to move around the city was a huge deal for me and helped me significantly. Having somewhere to go during the day kept me out of a lot of stuff. And having that is what helped me get to where I am today. When you are living in your addiction the only things on your mind or taking up your time are dealing drugs, buying drugs, dealing with gangs, and you become like an animal and like all those drug instincts they take over. So when you do have those brief moments where you think you want to get out of it, then being at YESS gives you the support to work on those options.

The world used to seem really harsh and cold and not a nice place to be at all. And now it seems like it is so much different. It always felt dangerous and not a place I wanted to be and now my perception is shifting.

I started working at a salon as a barber about two months ago. It gives me a sense of purpose and validates my creativity. It gives me an outlet. I’m so thankful I am working. I would really like to go back to school to become a hairdresser now that I know what all of this feels like.

If I could give advice to someone who is dealing with addiction and homelessness I would say don’t even think about it just go to detox. There is never a perfect time so just go do it. I went 11 times and you just have to keep trying until it clicks for you. It is like anything: you repeat things until you learn it. You keep trying until you learn how to live your life without drugs. And eat something! It plays such a big role in how you feel. You have to eat. You need nutrition. Take advantage of shelters and the food they have to offer.

I would say to people that don’t know anything about homelessness, that everyone’s situation is different. I hope that people will not be so judgmental of homeless youth. Don’t put us down. We are trying so hard just to be alive every day.

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Interview with YESS Board Chair Robert Blackwell

You’ve served on the YESS board for a number of years. What was it about the work YESS does that first drew you to YESS?

I moved to Edmonton 11 years ago as general manager of a hotel on the south side,and was first introduced to YESS through assisting with complimentary meeting space, rooms, etc. which we were happy to provide. We became more involved as our employees participated in Homeless for a Night several years running, so our employees actually chose YESS as our local charity to support. I always felt that YESS was a great fit for our hospitality team as both strive to provide a safe, welcoming environment and comfort to people in need of shelter.

How does serving on a board empower you to give back to your community?

When I look at my own three kids who have grown into healthy, confident young adults, I am incredibly grateful that my wife and I were able to provide a stable, loving home for them and provide them with opportunities to grow and thrive. Working on the YESS board has allowed me to give back by supporting this amazing organization providing sanctuary and support, walking beside Edmonton youth to help them build successful lives after suffering trauma and homelessness during their most critical formative years.

What has been your most remarkable experience at YESS?

The most remarkable thing about YESS is the staff. I am in awe at how committed and passionate they remain through dealing with challenges and incidents every week, and sometimes every day, that would break the spirit of many people. The shelter they provide, programs they deliver, and relationships they build with Edmonton youth facing difficult realities is truly remarkable and changes lives—not many people can say that about the vocation they have chosen, and we all need to be grateful for the people who make organizations like YESS possible.

What do you wish the community knew about YESS?

I wish everyone in Edmonton understood that homeless youth will grow into homeless adults or suffer even worse fates if we don’t act to help them, and there is not nearly enough focus on youth homelessness by all levels of government or funding for organizations like YESS. YESS provides emergency shelter, residential programs, daytime programs, and many other forms of assistance in three facilities, but 70% of our $4M+ budget comes from fundraising efforts. Executive Director Margo Long is working with similar local agencies to build a network dedicated to helping youth, but we need to change how the community and governments view youth homelessness and provide funding in keeping with the scope and consequences of the problem.

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What is trauma and how do we heal?

by Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovations at YESS

Working in the field of trauma support is hard; my friends and family are often confused about what I do and what trauma is. I am sure you are asking the same question: what exactly is trauma and how can YESS actually help youth heal? To answer this question, I ask you to close your eyes and imagine standing in your living room, gazing out your living room window into your community. Imagine the safety and security you feel around being in your own home, in the neighbourhood you have come to love and enjoy. Imagine that a person approaches your window—this person could be a friend, family member, a neighbour, a teacher, or a complete stranger. Now imagine that this person breaks your living room window! It could be that they are breaking into your house to steal something, or they could be trying to scare you, or they could just be breaking the window for their own fun. Either way, your window is now broken, your floor is covered in glass and you are no longer protected from the elements outside (noise, insects, animals, weather, etc). We both know that the window breaking wasn’t your fault.  It scared you and left a mess on the floor and has left you exposed and vulnerable, and none of this was your fault.

You have a choice now: you can avoid cleaning up the glass and replacing the window because this wasn’t your fault or you can use the tools in your house to sweep up the glass and find a way to replace the window. If the glass is not cleaned up, you will get hurt walking around and existing in your house. If your family and friends come over, they could get hurt by the glass as well. Your house will start to deteriorate because of the weather coming in and you will not feel safe or protected. If you clean up the glass, you may need to borrow a broom or get help vacuuming up the pieces. You may need to bring in an expert to help you replace the window. And you can never guarantee that someone won’t break the window again.  But at least you’ll know who to call, what tools you need, and which experts can be brought in to replace the window again. It wasn’t your fault the window broke, but it is your responsibility to clean up and repair your safety, security, and home.

This is the trauma our youth face daily. It is not their fault, but they are left with the responsibility to heal, integrate into the community, and successfully sustain their independence. When the youth experience their trauma, their brains and emotions are not developed enough to know what tools, what experts, and what next steps to heal look like. They are frozen in an emotional survival mode that they use to protect themselves from the confusion, the hurt, and their lack of safety.

Here at YESS, and within every youth-serving agency, we work to help the youth feel that safety to begin to understand their trauma. As they do, we can help them access healthy tools and experts to begin to rebuild relationships and a sense of safety. When youth are given the time and support to transition through their trauma, they are able to see success and growth within themselves and understand their responsibilities and possibilities. With these successes, youth are able to heal and the cycle of support will continue within themselves, their new neighbourhoods, and eventually within our city as a whole.

As a community member, I ask that you take the time to really process what trauma means and how it affects youth, families, and communities. We cannot do this work alone—it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community to heal from trauma. You can help. Your time, your donations, and your voice can all be tools our youth can use to help clean up their home and rebuild a better future.

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#tbt Stardust Retro Roller Rink

This summer, Southgate Centre hosted the Stardust Retro Roller Rink for five weeks of groovy fun in support of YESS. They welcomed kids and adults, talented rollerskaters and newbies to the rink where everyone got to make awesome summer memories.

“Our team was brainstorming ideas in terms of new experiences we could offer our guests,” says Claire Kolmatycki, Marketing Director at Southgate Centre. “We landed on roller skating as we thought it would be fun to offer a retro activity that would be fun for our adult shoppers, while offering something new for our youth to try out.”

In addition to regular skating during Southgate’s open hours, they hosted theme days, seniors days, toonie Tuesdays, and parties at the Stardust Retro Roller Rink, with all proceeds coming to YESS. The team at Southgate anticipated that the roller rink would be popular with young families, and so they wanted to partner with a youth-oriented charity. They approached us with this awesome opportunity and we teamed up to provided all the staff and volunteers needed for five weeks of rollin’ at the rink. The team at Southgate learned a lot about YESS and even came for a tour of our Whyte Ave building.

“I would like to raise awareness that YESS is a lot more than an emergency shelter,” says Claire. “They offer a broad range of programs for traumatized youth. On our tour we were able to see some of the artwork created by YESS youth and we were impressed by their talent and level of creativity and artistry.”

At YESS we focus on empowering our youth to build healthy relationships and we love giving them opportunities to create special memories. It was touching for us to see friends, families, and—on a special outing!—our youth come together at the roller rink to have fun, experience community, and create memories together.

“If we can contribute towards shaping fun memories through the roller rink, then we are very happy!” says Claire.

There was a lot of rockin’, rollin, and retro fun at the Stardust Roller Rink this summer. Of all the great memories, what was a highlight?

“The adults-only roller rink party was a hoot! We had some diehard rollerskating fans that night and they were skating backwards and doing tricks! It was fantastic to see everyone in their retro outfits, just enjoying the 80s tunes and having a blast!” says Claire.

Thank you so much to Southgate Centre for partnering with us on the Stardust Retro Roller Rink this summer! The rink raised $18,290 to support YESS programs for traumatized youth on their journeys toward healing. The number of great summer memories made at the rink this summer will always be priceless and we know the community had a special, magical experience rolling the sunny days away!

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Winter Giving 101

Fall is setting in at that means winter is just around the corner. Between the weather getting colder and Christmas approaching we know that donations are going to start to roll in at a rapid pace.  With this being our busiest donation time of the year by far, we thought it would be helpful to both our generous donors and our staff that handle the donations to share some more information, let’s call it Winter Donations 101.

In winter we expand our hours at the Armoury Resource Centre to provide a safe space for our youth to seek refuge from the cold. Despite this, we know that many of youth will spend hours upon hours outside and will need proper winter gear to avoid serious medical issues like frostbite, trench foot, and hypothermia.

Things we always need throughout winter: Winter jackets, waterproof winter boots, gloves, balaclavas, thermal underwear, warmer clothing, warm socks, self-activating heating pads (like HotHands), lip balm, thermal bottles, headlamps/flashlights, and thermal emergency blankets.

When donating used clothing or goods please ensure that these items are still functional and presentable. For example, a winter jacket that has a broken zipper is not effective at helping keep warm and our youth do not have the funds to have clothing patched or repaired.

Gently used items will generally go directly into our donation rooms for the youth to access right away. It is very helpful if clothing is donated washed and folded, in a recycling bag or box that is clearly marked “washed”. New items, like clothing with tags still on, will generally be put away for use at Christmas gifts. If you are donating both, you could separate them for us and mark the new items a “Christmas gifts”.  We do not give used items as Christmas gifts, with the exception of electronics.

Many of our youth come from families who have struggled with poverty and did not have the luxury of showering their children with gifts, Christmas at YESS is often the first time they have ever received multiple gifts. It is incredibly heart warming to see their faces light up, usually accompanied by a wave of disbelief. These moments of joy and the feelings of gratitude that follow for long after as the youth continue to enjoy their gifts throughout the year, they are only possible because of the overwhelming generosity of people like yourself.

If you are considering purchasing Christmas gifts for our youth and would like some guidance on how to ensure your gifts are most effective, we have compiled a list of items that are most frequently asked for. You can rest assured that if you donate something on this list it will go to a youth who has specifically requested that item and will be incredibly grateful!

Winter Giving 101 list

We will collect and sort all of the gifts, and then we have each youth create a wish list. Over 100 youth will be accessing YESS around Christmas time. Once we have all of those wish lists, we go through our collection of goods to customize presents for each and every youth. As you can imagine, this is a ton of work. You can help us in easing this process by removing or scratching off pricing tags and by not bundling presents. We know, it’s super fun to create little gift packs, but in order to customize and ensure that gifts are fairly distributed, it is much easier for us to separate everything. This means if you and a group of friends are making 20 care packages for Christmas, rather than making 20 bags with one of each items in them, instead make one bag of toothbrushes, one bag of soap, one bag of shaving cream, one bag of writing pads, one bag of card games, etc.  It’s also very helpful if gift cards aren’t hidden in other items, again, we strive for fairness and that is easier when we know what’s going out.

You have now graduated Winter Donations 101! Thank you for reading this and taking these ideas into consideration when donating goods this season. We are constantly blown away the outpouring of love for our youth over winter and we can tell you first hand from being with the youth over winter and Christmas that they truly appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness.

For the month of December, donation drop-off hours at Whyte Ave (9310 82 Ave) and the Armoury Resource Centre (10310 85 Ave) are:

Monday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM
Tuesday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-4PM
Wednesday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-4PM
Thursday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-4PM
Friday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM
Saturday Whyte Ave CLOSED
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM
Sunday Whyte Ave CLOSED
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM

 

*Donating Christmas gifts? Make sure your donation is dropped off before December 23—that’s the day the elves start wrapping!

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Letter from the ED – Fall 2018

Homeless=Hurt

When you see a youth on the street in Edmonton, you are not just seeing someone without a home, you are seeing a child that is hurt. They have been hurt by their families, or friends, or government systems, or the community they are in, and in many cases, all of the above.

Think about the communities you live, work, and play in. Many of us are fortunate to have people who love us, support us, care for us, and believe in us—even when we don’t believe in ourselves. The youth at YESS haven’t had these empowering, comforting experiences. The community that was supposed to love, support, teach, and empower them was not safe. Our community was not safe.

We are not separate: traumatized youth are not them, they are us. The days when we can all come together are days when we can heal together. These young members of our community can be some of the most powerful contributors to our community if we see them as us, if we let them in and provide, safe and healthy spaces for them, and if we slowly and patiently walk beside them as they try to heal from the damage already done and move forward. This fall we are focusing on bringing more awareness to the hurt behind the symptom of homelessness and to the amazing youth serving organizations who passionately try to help.

You will see us speak more about what these youth face and what our youth serving partners are up to. You will hear us speak about community healing—because we cannot do it alone. It will take each and every one of you and us to make a difference.

We are #healingtogether.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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