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St. Boniface School Visits YESS

This guest post comes from the Grade 6A Class from St. Boniface Elementary School and their teacher, Mr. Charrois. During their visit, the students wrote encouraging notes for our youth that were left on the beds in our shelter and posted on the walls in our residential program.

In anticipation for our IB PYP Exhibition and to ignite social change, the Grade 6 students from St. Boniface visited YESS (Youth Empowerment & Support Services) this month. We were served a delicious lunch from Red Seal Chef Tiffany and her amazing kitchen staff. Then we were given a tour of the building by Jen and Mo. Finally, we completed an activity for Edmonton’s youth in need that we left on their beds.

After returning to school, we reflected on the experience and here is what a few of us thought:

St Boniface School Students

 When we went in, it made me feel sad and made me feel way more privileged than before and made me want to be more thankful for things that they don’t have and I do. Now I have a different perspective on homeless youth throughout the city and the world. (Jacob)

I felt glad that we could learn more about youth homelessness so that we can take action and help make a positive change in our community to help kids who are affected by homelessness. I feel so disappointed that parents would abandon their children as soon as they weren’t their responsibility. (Student)

When I went to bed last night, I was happy to know someone will get my letter, and I hoped that it would make an impact on whoever that person was. (Sophie)

We cannot wait to see what actions we can take to help YESS be a safe and caring place for our youth!

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Art for All

This interview appeared in our Summer 2017 Newsletter. We are re-posting it ahead of Visual Voices: Telling Our Stories Through Art, the YESS Youth Art Show and Sale, opening Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Earlier this year we put a call out for a new YESS Artist in Residence with support from the Edmonton Arts Council. Our Artist in Residence leads the Interactive Art Program at ARC. The art program is constantly evolving, but it’s always a favourite with our youth. The Interactive Art Program is proudly sponsored by Simons, who hold the power of art near and dear to their vision. “What resonates with us most at Simons is the ability to contribute in a way that taps into the creative positivity of the youth and help others see the potential,” says Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations for Simons.

Local artist Allison Tunis was selected to be YESS’ new Artist-in-Residence in the spring. Allison is an Edmonton artist whose work in embroidery and mixed media primarily explores body positivity. She has a graduate degree in Art Therapy and has already worked extensively with youth from difficult realities.

We met with Allison as she began to set up shop at ARC to ask her a few questions.

Interview with Allison_01You already have experience with this demographic. What drew you to the artist in residence position at YESS?

 This position seemed like it was tailor-made for me. I do have quite a bit of experience working with this demographic – I’m trained as an Art Therapist from the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute, and did many of my practicum placements working with youth from difficult realities. When I moved back to Alberta, I worked at the Old Strathcona Youth Society for nearly two years, and participated on the Youth Connect committee and currently work for the Action Alliance for Youth Inclusion (AAYI) group (a local group of non-profit agencies working towards inclusion of high-risk youth) as an administrative assistant. This residency position is a perfect combination of working on my own artwork, and helping youth to use artistic expression in new ways.

 What are you hoping to accomplish with our youth through the Art Program?

 Through this program, I’m really hoping to introduce to the youth the ways that Art and Activism can be used as healing tools. This is the basis of my own work – raising awareness of feminist and body diversity issues, whilst working through some of my own history. The skills that I’ve learned as an artist, an art therapist, and an aspiring activist, are very useful in developing healthy coping mechanisms and methods of self-expression, and I think the youth would benefit from exploring different avenues for how art can contribute to their lives.

In your opinion, what is it about art that makes it such a powerful medium for therapy?

 The powerful aspect of art is that it can really be what you want it to be. You can use it as a diary, as a therapist, as a voice to raise awareness, as a form of meditation, and so on.  It allows for individuals to engage in a variety of different ways, whatever their comfort level and experience level is. As well, regardless of what most people think, artistic skill is not required for making art. It’s accessible to everyone. The benefits of art don’t just magically appear if you are able to produce realistic looking portraits, they are there if you are doing abstract expressionism, if you are finger painting, if you are embroidering, if you are colouring in colouring books. Art can be something different for each person, and it can be a very powerful way of expressing what’s inside when you are unable to put it into words.

Is there a particular project or art style that you’re most excited about sharing with our youth?Interview with Allison_02

 I’m really interested in sharing that art doesn’t have to be traditional “Art” media with the youth. I work mostly in embroidery, which is a traditional craft medium and not usually considered Fine Art. I’d like to show the youth that their skills and histories can be used to make unique art, whether it’s repurposing items they find out in the world, or beading techniques that they learned from their family. I’m also thrilled that there is a high chance that we will be creating a colouring book with the youth, which is something that I have done in the past and am happy to pass on to the youth.

Our youth have learned so much from Allison! Come see their work at Visual Voices: Telling Our Story Through Artthe YESS Youth Art Show and Sale. Opening night is Thursday, October 19, from 6:00PM-8:00PM and the showcase will be open October 20-21, 10AM-4PM, at our Armoury Resource Centre (10310 85 Ave)

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Meet Our Youth: J.L.’s Story

This piece was one of the most talked-about works at the Youth Art Show last year. Titled Yin and Yang, its graceful fish and pale colours invoke a sense of calm, and incredible artistic talent is clearly on display. Everything about it seems so effortless, but for its artist and former YESS youth, J.L, the journey to this tranquil place was a long one of perseverance, focus, and patience.

“In grade 10 I started to feel a lot of depression, so I stopped going to school,” says J.L. “My mom thought I was lazy… I was kicked out of my home.”

After staying at friends’ houses for a while, J.L. found her way to the YESS Nexus shelter. Without school or a stable place to stay during the day, J.L. fell in with a rough crowd. She had already been a cutter for most of her life, and her life became a spiral of cutting and drinking to cope with her depression and loneliness.

Through it all, J.L. still had a goal to continue her education and was admitted to Graham’s Place, one of our long-term residences. She completed her grade 11 coursework, but still struggled with addiction.

“All of the staff at YESS would always try to get me to make better choices. They would encourage me to work on my art and would try to suggest treatment and stuff like that. Even though I had a bed, I was always choosing to sleep in the River Valley… It can be super tough to make good choices.”

J.L. moved to our other residential program, Shanoa’s Place, in the west end to help empower her to break some of her negative cycles. She continued school through the Boyle Street Charter School and completed her high school diploma, but she knew she had more work to do before she could look to a brighter future.

“I started drinking again… Changes don’t happen overnight,” says J.L. “It was bad because I was drinking in residence. I kept falling off. I left the program.”

J.L. tried returning home, but the addiction and mental health issues among her family members made it difficult for J.L. to overcome her own obstacles.

“I knew I needed to put the effort in myself,” says J.L. “So I started staying at shelter again.”

J.L.’s struggle with addiction came to a terrifying head when she was on a binge one night and was badly beaten up. Her worst injury was her leg, which she tried to treat herself with a makeshift splint. She continued to walk on it for a day before seeing a doctor, and found out that her leg was actually broken. J.L. needed four surgeries where screws were put in her leg, followed by six months of physiotherapy and bedrest.

“This incident really sparked me to wake up and start taking care of my body,” says J.L. “Ever since then I haven’t touched drugs. Every time I think about it I feel my leg and I remember to take good care of my body.”

Once she had recovered physically, J.L. turned her sights back on her goals for her independence. She applied to the Housing First program for adults and to a post-secondary social work program—and she was accepted into both!

J.L. worked so hard on her goals for her education and a brighter future. What advice would she give to someone facing similar obstacles?

“I would say it takes a long time to learn what you know now and it takes a long time to unlearn it. I would say there are people you don’t even know who care about you. I would say that you matter. I would that who you surround yourself with makes all the difference, and that could mean you surround yourself with hardly anyone for a while, only with positive people you can find and connect with.”

J.L.’s future is so bright, and she has the drive and passion she needs to make it reality. Though her focus is forward, J.L. has many positive memories from her time at YESS.

“They helped me with every single thing. They were my support. They gave me the energy and the courage to make better choices. They encouraged me. At the time I thought all the things they wanted me to do were so small, but all those little choices were so good for me.”

Like her artistic skills, J.L.’s path to health and happiness took a lot of practice, focus, and bravery—one good decision after another. Her Yin and Yang fish prove that there is hard work beneath even the calmest surface.

Congratulations, J.L., on everything you’ve achieved so far. We know that the skills you’ve learned to become healthy and independent will serve you well in your goals and dreams for the future.

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17th Annual YESS Charity Golf Classic

We celebrated a gorgeous September day with the 17th Annual YESS Charity Golf Classic driven, once again, by our champions at GrassChopper Landscaping Ltd.! Our golfers, volunteers, and staff had a great day of fun in the sun at The Links in Spruce Grove.

After a greeting from new YESS Executive Director Margo Long, golfers enjoyed their breakfast to power up for the day. Then it was time to jump into their golf carts and putt-putt-putt their way around the links!

Golfers had no fear of going hungry out on the course. The Collin Bruce Mortgage Team had bevvies for all; Sherlock Holmes Hospitality Group were making cajun chicken tacos and pouring samples; McCoy Global had a BBQ and champagne and orange-flavoured cotton candy; The Organic Box kept everyone healthy with fresh fruit cups; River City Events brought their mini-doughnut machine; and of course we could count on Boston Pizza to bring a few slices for our friends!

YESS Golf 2017 Collage 1

 

Golf wasn’t the only game on the course. At the Jump Outta Bed hole, there was a chip n’ charity challenge. From chipping to putting, GrassChopper Landscaping hosted a putting contest at the putting green. There were two big hole-in-one prize opportunities hosted by Sherlock Holmes Hospitality Group and Next Step Events, but neither was won–though we’re sure if you asked the golfers, you might hear about a few close shots! And the Kerry Harty Investment Group from CIBC Wood Gundy hosted a “big driver” competition where they challenged golfers to tee-off with a massive golf club! It was definitely a big hit!

After a gorgeous day out on the course, golfers returned to the clubhouse for dinner and speeches, including the final address from Deb Cautley as Executive Director of YESS.

“I think this year has been the most spectacular year for working with our youth where they’re at. We’ve seen some really great stuff happen this year. We’ve seen a lot of kids graduate, we’ve seen a few go to post-secondary, some of them have been on a helicopter flight. Thanks to the generosity of supporters, they’ve been to Oilers games, Oil Kings games, and concerts, and they had opportunities this year to be just like any other kids. That doesn’t happen without people like you…

“This is the last speech I’ll ever make unless someone asks me to make a toast at a wedding or something. But this is my last speech for YESS. It’s time. It’s time to pass on the torch. It’s time for new ideas, new energy, new pitbullishness. So as I leave, I’m leaving with hope. I hope that you’re all pleased with how I’ve stewarded your investment in these kids. Every cent goes towards something for the kids. I hope you’re pleased with that. My next hope is that you will continue to support this amazing agency. And this agency is amazing not because of who the ED is—it’s amazing because of the staff. Because of the volunteers. Most of all, it’s a astonishing because of the kids. I hope you’ll continue supporting this organization and helping these kids reach their potential. My last is hope is that as Margo takes over what is definitely not an easy job, not a simple job, I hope you will give her the same support and appreciation you’ve give me for 18 years. And with that I say, Cautley out.”

YESS Golf 2017 Collage 2

After the standing ovation for Deb settled down, Trevor Ross from presenting sponsor GrassChopper Landscaping Ltd. thanked golfers for their continuing support of YESS. He recalled a job site his crew once had near the Bissell Centre. As the days passed, they saw clients coming and going, sleeping in doorways before the centre opened. Trevor realized then how important it was for people facing difficult realities to find support and resources before their circumstances could become this hard. That’s why Trevor supports the work done at YESS.

“YESS is there for youth at a point in their journeys to make sure they have opportunities to succeed,” said Trevor.

And even though it was a beautiful day out on the course and a lots of fun with new and old friends, this golf tournament is truly about supporting our youth. Thank you so much to all our sponsors, guests, donors, and volunteers who joined us at our golf tournament!  This year we raised almost $46,000 to help us continue offering youth who are experiencing homelessness in Edmonton the support and resources they need.

Check out all the golf photos from One Step Beyond!

Sponsors

Presenting Sponsor – GrassChopper Landscaping Ltd.
Marked Ball Sponsor & 50/50 Draw Sponsor – Impark
Eagle Sponsors –  Collin Bruce Mortgage Team, CIBC Wood Gundy – Harty Investment Group, Sherlock Holmes Hospitality GroupWhite Knight Construction
Birdie Sponsor – Jump Outta Bed
Auction SponsorCarlson Construction
Gift Sponsor – McCoy Global
Golf Cart & Valet Sponsor – Gryphon Benefits & Insurance, Sun Life Financial

YESS Overall Sponsors

Boston Pizza
CityNews
Cowan Imaging Group
Inland AV
One Step Beyond Photography & Video
Pattison Outdoor Advertising
The Organic Box
River City Events & Big Top Tent Rentals
Simons

Special Thanks To

Air Canada Foundation
Next Step Events
The Links

Auction & Prizing Contributors

SUITS by Curtis Eliot
Edmonton Eskimos Football Club
Mark Pryzbilla
Sherbrooke Liquor
FLAMAN Fitness
Pattison Outdoor Advertising
Sherlock Holmes Hospitality Group
CityNews

 

 

 

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Discover Atlantis | YESS Gala for Youth 2017

On April 28, we led guests through the veil of legend and reality to Discover Atlantis, that lost oasis of beauty and antiquity. What treasures and mysteries would be found under the sea?

Discover Atlantis photo collage 1

Guests arrived at the Shaw Conference Centre and entered an ancient agora. There was lots to explore, from the Dionysus Harvest of Grapes wine pull to the Ornaments of the Gods jewelry raffle with Hillberg and a Berk to the Greek Game of Chance. There was also a photo booth with One Step Beyond Photography. A signature cocktail reminiscent of the blues of the Mediterranean, sponsored by Impark, paired perfectly with hors d’oeuvres of tartar, edamame bruschetta, and–we were in Greece after all–spanakopita! Fashion displays by Simons set a classical mood with toga-like dresses and beautiful crowns.

Discover Atlantis photo collage 2

Then it was time for guests to plunge into Atlantis! Mermaids, octopii, and jellyfish floated amongst the pale pillars of the lost city. The many treasures of the silent auction sponsored by Canterra Suites Hotel enticed our guests. Tables were set with shimmering tablecloths in blue and silver. Centrepieces sponsored by MC College were inspired by coral and underwater flora to gorgeous effect. Each centrepiece boasted a pair of Sparkle Ball earrings by Hillberg and Berk available for blind auction, with all proceeds going to the YESS Health For 2 program to support pregnant youth.

The booming voices of Poseidon welcomed guests to the kingdom of Atlantis. Greetings were brought from the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, MP and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities; the Honourable Thomas Dang, MLA; and Mayor Don Iveson and Honourary YESS Patron Sarah Chan. Our emcee, auctioneer, and messenger of the gods for the evening was Mark Scholz.

YESS Executive Director Deb Cautley spoke about the power of family. For the youth at YESS, sometimes family are people and positive influences they choose rather than the one they were born into. The experiences and relationships youth have at YESS can echo through the rest of their lives. Many youth return to YESS years after they’ve “graduated” from our programs, to share their new life milestones and successes with the staff who helped them years before. With the theme of family in mind, Deb welcomed former YESS youth Camille Ripley to share her story.

Discover Atlantis photo collage 3

Camille grew up with a difficult relationship with her mom and stepdad, constantly under threat of being kicked out no matter how quiet or out-of-the-way she made herself. Her worst fear came true when she was 14 and she came home to find her room empty and her belongings packed. Her parents had decided to send her to a foster home. Camille was eventually allowed to return home again, but only after her parents found out that she was being mistreated by her foster family. Life at home was as tense and difficult as ever. For her 17th birthday, Camille asked to stay with her aunt and uncle in Edmonton so she could attend an alternative school program. Her parents agreed and bought her a bus ticket. Camille started at a new school and made new friends who introduced her to drugs and alcohol that helped numb the pain and trauma of her childhood. It became too much for her aunt and uncle to handle and they asked Camille to leave. They gave her the address for YESS.

At YESS, Camille found other kids who had stories similar to hers. She quickly bonded with staff and took great comfort in having supportive people to turn to. “That is the constant I’d been missing my whole life,” said Camille. “There were rules to follow and chores to do, but they were all to help teach me to be an independent adult.” No matter what, YESS staff were there for her. Camille left when she was 18, but YESS continued to be her rock. She eventually enrolled in the Child and Youth Care Program at MacEwan and graduated in 2002 with honours–cue applause! Camille has now been a social worker for 15 years and is the support for kids who need it most. As Camille wisely noted, “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways sometimes.”

Discover Atlantis photo collage 4

Then it was time to enter the gladiator ring of the live auction sponsored by Carlson Construction–bidding paddles at the ready! Items like rare Burgundian win from Keith Graham, a pack from Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company, a tour from Bioware, a travel package from WestJet and the Edmonton International Airport, top-of-the-line fitness equipment from Flaman Fitness, a year-long parking pass from Impark, a BBQ for 24 people from Tom Goodchild, a dinner party packed from YESS Chef Ellen Mitchell and River City Events/Big Top Tent Rentals Ltd., and a night on the town with a tailored suit to match from Simons, Mayfield Dinner Theatre, DoubleTree by Hilton, and Prestige Limousine, a division Greater Edmonton Taxi Service Inc. The rarest item of all came from the muse herself, Giselle Denis, who painted throughout the evening and auctioned off her masterpiece.

A fashion show of the Simons spring/summer 2017 collection turned the acropolis into a runway! Models floated past in gorgeous modern ensembles and antiquity-inspired headdresses.

Discover Atlantis photo collage 5

Guests held their breath for the evening’s finale: an under-the-sea-themed epic by Firefly Theatre & Circus. Acrobats emulated deadly sharks, jolly crabs, and shipwrecked heroes to gasps and applause from the audience.

At last it was time for the Lost City of Atlantis to disappear into the sands of time once again. But we privileged few now know its secrets, and perhaps a few walked away with a few treasures ourselves. Thank you so much to all our guests, sponsors, hosts, volunteers, and staff who made the 2017 YESS Gala for Youth the most successful gala yet, raising $220,000. Your support of our programs and resources means our youth can discover their potential and find the support they need to bring their dreams to life.

Relive the splendour of Atlantis with One Step Beyond Photography.

Thanks to all of our sponsors this year, including:

Presenting Sponsor: Nordic Mechanical Services

Dinner Sponsor: Collin Bruce Mortgage Team

Cocktail Sponsor: Impark

Table Wine Sponsor: Sherlock Holmes Hospitality Group

Centrepiece Sponsor: MC College

Raffle Sponsor: Hillberg & Berk

Sorbet Sponsor: Dentons

Silent Auction Sponsor: Canterra Suites Hotel

Live Auction Sponsor: Carlson Construction

Welcome Sponsor: The Violet Chocolate Company

Hero Sponsors: Bold Design and Norpoint Sandblasting and Painting

Agora & Overall Sponsor: Simons

Agora & Overall Sponsor: The Organic Box

Media & Overall Sponsor: City TV & Dinner Television

Media & Overall Sponsor: SONiC 102.9

Photography & Overall Sponsor: One Step Beyond (Photography & Video)

Decor & Overall Sponsor: River City Events/Big Top Tent Rentals

Audio Visual & Overall Sponsor: Inland Audio Visual Limited

Signage & Overall Sponsor: Cowan Graphics Inc.

Advertising & Overall Sponsor: Pattison Outdoor Advertising

Venue: Shaw Conference Centre

 

 

 

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YESS Volunteers Bring the Joy

The last week of April is National Volunteer Week! Every year, hundreds of volunteer commit thousands of hours to make our work with youth experiencing homelessness possible. They support our Programs staff, our Facilities team, and our administrative departments. They create positive experiences for youth, donors, and staff. We truly could not do our job without them!

For National Volunteer Week, we want to share Rick and Dianne’s story. Rick and Dianne have been making Christmas dinner for our youth since 1999! Every year, they share their time and their love over Christmas with youth who call our shelter home.

Thank you so much to Rick and Dianne, and to all our volunteers–longtime and brand new–who make YESS’ work possible!

Tell us a bit about yourselves!

Well, I’m not really sure where to start. I’m 60 years old and have been married to my wife, Dianne Westwood, for thirty years. That said, our relationship actually started a number of years before that. We both grew up in the same small town in Saskatchewan, then went to Saskatoon for post-secondary education, Dianne at the U of S, and me at technical school. Dianne is my strength and keeps me focused and going straight ahead. We’ve lived in Edmonton since 1986. In our first years of marriage, I was going to engineering school at the U of A, and if not for Dianne’s support and encouragement, I would have never made it through. I’m very proud of Dianne; she has been a manager with MacEwan University’s Centre for the Arts for more than 28 years. I have worked in both government and private industry over the years and presently, I’m am an engineer with the Alberta Energy Regulator. We don’t have any children, but have two small dogs, Pumpkin and Rogue, that keep us occupied. We like to make home-made wine, and we also travel as often as our time allows. Over the years we’ve had great driving trips to the Northwest Territories and Yukon, and visited all of our Canadian provinces. We have been lucky enough to make our way to Europe a few times, and even spent a short time in Africa and Asia.

What inspired you to start volunteering with YESS?

Both Dianne and I have done a bit of volunteering over the years. Before I started studying at the U of A, we spent a few months as volunteers with CUSO in Mozambique. Unfortunately, the war that was going on in the country at the time, which was just after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, intensified in the city we were working in. A car bomb went off early one morning not far from where we were living, and it was recommended we leave. I was able to begin studying at the U of A shortly after our return to Canada, and Dianne spent several months volunteering as an ESL tutor before beginning a new job at the downtown YMCA. Basically, we were familiar with volunteering.

To answer your question, thought, through most of the 1990s, we would invite an elderly neighbour over for Christmas dinner. After she passed away, we resumed travelling to Saskatchewan for Christmas with family. After a couple of years, we decided that we would like to stay in Edmonton for the holidays, but did want to do something helpful somewhere. Dianne contacted YESS as we felt the help they offered for young adults was much needed and very worthwhile. Kids whose circumstances made their lives much tougher than ours deserved something at Christmas; offering to cook Christmas dinner wasn’t much, but it was something we felt we could take on, plus we knew that our help would give the shelter’s cook the opportunity to have the day with his family.

We are a bit unsure of the first year that we volunteered to cook at YESS, but we think it was 1999. We did miss cooking at Christmas in 2002, but haven’t missed any years since then.

If there was one thing you wish the community knew about YESS, what would it be?

I think that many Edmontonians aren’t aware enough of some problems that exist in Edmonton. We hear about the efforts that the City and a number of wonderful supporting agencies are doing to address issues, homelessness and hunger to name a couple, but we don’t hear much about troubled youth and the efforts that agencies such as YESS are doing to help support them and provide life skills training for them.

What special memories do you have of spending Christmas with the youth of YESS?

Over the years of volunteering at Christmas at YESS, we have lots of fond memories and have met wonderful volunteers, staff and clients. Nancy Ng is has been a volunteer cook for most of the years that Dianne and I have Christmas day at YESS. Nancy is a great traveler and mountain climber and has told us of many of her adventures; something we have enjoyed a lot and look forward to hearing on each occasion we meet. Really though, the hustle and bustle of preparing and serving dinner for 20 to 30 people makes for a busy piece of the day! The kids always appreciate our efforts and nearly every one of them takes a moment to say “thank you”. I especially like it when they come to us and say the food reminds them of Christmas dinners at their Grandma’s house; I like to think that these are beautiful memories for them, and that is very special for us! The staff at the Armoury are always helpful to get things set up, and the youth have their duties in clearing up the dishes after the meal. Once all is done and we are heading home, we always feel that we’ve accomplished something that we can be proud of…it isn’t much, but it is something we’ve been able to contribute.

What are your words to live by?

Be honest and respectful when dealing with people and they will respond in kind.

If you are interested in volunteering with YESS, please visit yess.org for more information!

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Smile for the YESS Camera!

Chris Thombs of is a familiar face at every YESS event, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find him in any photos. That’s because Chris is always the pro behind the camera capturing every smile, laugh, and crazy moment at YESS events over the past 6 years! You can check them all out at onestepbeyond.ca.

Thank you so much, Chris, for all of your hard work! We can’t wait to smile for the camera at the YESS Gala for Youth!

Tell us a bit about yourself!

Where to start? Today I am a working photographer that specializes in “making you look good” by creating imagery of you, or of what you care about, for any professional or personal use. Before the career change in 2009 to becoming a full time professional creative I was in the Army with the Princess Patrica’s Canadian Light Infantry for 21 years. That service made me care more about my adoptive city of Edmonton and to put down roots here.

How did you first get involved with YESS?

Back in 2010 I finally had the opportunity to finally get to go out for “Homeless For A Night” and participate instead of just donating money and stuff to YESS. So a couple of friends and I went down to participate bringing our donations and spent the night. And since I am a working photographer I had my camera in tow as always I documented the night, and handed off the images to Shelly. Two months later Shelly called me and asked me what I knew about golf, and if I would be interested in volunteering to cover the Charity Golf Tournament with photography, and I responded HECK YAH! Tell me when and where! So ever since myself and One Step Beyond has covered YESS’s marquee events doing event photography, photo booth, video productions, and even some executive portraits.

Why are you passionate about supporting youth facing difficult realities?

I have friends that went to YESS for help when they were in need, I have seen the good work they do, and my experience working over seas makes me want to help our own youth in Edmonton.

What are some favourite moments you’ve experienced at YESS events?

There are so many great moments and
memories I have from YESS events (I have photographic proof of that). But for me it is hard to distill down to finite moments, but I can share what I feel; touched in the heart, joy, and hope at every event.

Why is in important for you to give back to your community?

Every one deserves a chance at anything, and everything.

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Christmas Giving

Christmas at YESS would not be the joyous time it is without the help and dedication of our volunteers. Nancy Ng has been serving Christmas dinner to our youth for the past 12 years. She has made sure that hundreds of youth have had a warm and welcoming Christmas Day as they all sit down to eat together. It means so much to us and our youth that she chooses to spend this precious time with us, a gift in itself.

Tell us a bit about yourself! I work as a writer for the Government of Alberta. I am also a non-fiction author. My first book (No, Really, Where Are You From?) was published in 2012, and it is being sold in different venues and bookstores around Edmonton. I’m currently working on my 2nd and 3rd book. I always look forward to all the festivals this great city has to offer in the summer, especially Heritage Days.

What inspired you to start volunteering with YESS? I had a very chaotic and unstable childhood, so I understand what a lot of the kids at YESS are going through. I never got to use YESS when I was a youth, but I could still relate to a lot of the youth at YESS, as it was a very difficult time in my life.

It means so much to me to know that the youth get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day.

As I’m older now and my life is no longer turbulent and uncertain, I still feel the presence of my youth. It’s heartbreaking to know that these youth have no place to go on such a day as Christmas (or any other day). I feel they need Christmas more than I do, and that is why I wanted to volunteer at YESS on Christmas Day. I have a warm and safe place to return to every single day of my life, but not these youth. I feel regardless if you’re a homeless youth or an adult, everybody deserves a place to go to that is warm and inviting, and have food for them, and not be outside walking around stressing where they can get some shelter or where their next meal is coming from. Nobody deserves to live that way.

If there was one thing you wish the community knew about YESS, what would it be? The one thing I wish the community knew about YESS is their life-changing programs and services to help homeless youth get back on their feet again. Whether it’s giving them structure, helping them with their resumes, or providing them with warm beds, YESS is there for these youth. As our economy becomes more volatile and ever changing, so are the family dynamics and structure. Edmonton is very lucky to have this organization help our homeless youth.

What special memories do you have of spending Christmas with the youth of YESS? There have been so many special memories of spending Christmas with youths at YESS. The ones that stand out for me the most are seeing the happiness in the youth’s faces throughout the years, when I see them at the Armoury or at the YESS headquarters. They know they’re in a safe and warm environment, and it shows in their faces. That means so much to me to know that they get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day, amidst their chaotic and turbulent everyday realities. It’s the least I can do and I will never forget that. I hope one day I can have the opportunity to bring my children in to also volunteer, so they can see what I see.

What are your words to live by? My words to live by are: It’s going to get better. I promise. In line with my philosophy is one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Thank you so much, Nancy, for being a strong and positive force for our youth over the past 12 years and for giving the gift of your time and service. Thank you for sharing the true meaning of the holidays with us!

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YESS Youth Making Her Dreams Come True

Dear Staff at Youth Empowerment & Support Services,

Sixteen years ago I stayed at YESS after having a significant breakdown in my relationship with my mother. Since then my life has travelled a wonderful road, and I have always credited the staff at the shelter as a significant factor in my success.

The staff at YESS treated me in a way that everyone else in my life was not able to—with dignity and respect. Their attitude towards me helped to nurture something inside me that was rapidly dying. As a troubled teen it was easy to start seeing yourself the way the rest of the world sees you—as worthless—and without the YESS staff I can’t imagine how I ever would have found the belief in myself to move forward.

One afternoon, a youth worker from the shelter conducted a simple exercise with us: she had us visualize the ultimate reality that we could be living ten years from now, and she had us write it out. I believe that I wanted to live in a log cabin, with a kind and loving husband, and have a career as a police officer. I left the youth shelter with a self-determination that saw me through college, completing a law degree at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. This coming August I am blessed to be celebrating the completion of my law degree; in October I celebrate five years of marriage to a kind, educated and loving man, and at the end of the summer my son—a healthy, well-adjusted, and interesting young man—begins high school.

I have thought many times over the years how critical my time at YESS was. The staff there were truly amazing. They believed in me—an act so simple, but so determinative of whether I chose to live the reality of how others saw me, or live it how it could be.

While I haven’t bought a log house yet (law school is awfully expensive!), I am well past any dream that I could have dared to contemplate when facing life on the streets at 16.

– Former YESS Youth

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Youth Finds the Power to Change His Story

Ask any of the YESS staff at Nexus or ARC and they’ll all agree: Sherwood’s journey has been amazing to watch and his gentle, positive personality a joy to work with.

Sherwood had already started to change his story when he arrived at YESS. He had just finished detox and knew he needed to find somewhere supportive to stay if he was going to keep up his sobriety. That is what he found at YESS.

“I talked to the staff here, telling them what I needed,” says Sherwood. “And I stayed involved in the groups and activities offered at ARC. Having somewhere to go was very helpful. I didn’t have to aimlessly walk around all day… and then I had somewhere to sleep at night. It kept me safe.”

Soon Sherwood was connected with resources to help him achieve his goals to maintain his sobriety, find a job, and get his own place.

“Sherwood came to me when he heard about the work experience program,” says Claire, YESS Employment Coordinator. “He was very excited about the food portion of the work experience and started his food safety program right away.”

As he was getting support for his employment goal, Sherwood also worked with Erin, an AHS Addictions Counsellor, to get a referral to a treatment program to help him maintain his sobriety. With Erin’s help, Sherwood was admitted to his first-choice treatment program at Shunda Creek. He always made his check-in calls to YESS Programs staff to share his progress and his feelings about the treatment process.

Our staff were so proud to watch Sherwood achieve one goal after another. It was no surprise—from his first days at Nexus and ARC, staff found Sherwood to be positive, driven, and patient with both others and himself.

After his amazing months at treatment, Sherwood returned to YESS programs and found resources to help him find long-term housing. Just over a week later, Sherwood moved into a sober living program. In a few months, Sherwood had gone from seeking emergency shelter to committing himself to his sobriety and achieving independence.

“I mentally took an inventory of how my life had been collapsing over the past couple of years, and told myself that I didn’t want it to keep going downhill,” Sherwood says. “My advice would be don’t be afraid to express where you’re at. Showing vulnerability will lead you to success… If you go and tell someone you want to use, they can help you out in that moment, they can teach you things in that moment.”

There’s so much for Sherwood to be proud of! What would he say are his top achievements?

“Getting past addiction. Building myself up to say I don’t need to use anymore, which has gotten me to 137 days clean! Working at becoming part of my family again. And having a plan to start budgeting, which I’ve never done before.”

Staff at Nexus and ARC know that while Sherwood’s time with YESS is over, his success is just beginning. The positivity and resilience he showed while he was in our programs even inspired other youth who share some of the same goals.

“I can only imagine where he will be in another few months,” says Claire. “His passion will surely take him to wherever he wishes to be.”

Congratulations, Sherwood, on all your hard work and all you have achieved! We know the future is bright for you!

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