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A Sanctuary Within a Sanctuary

Meet the Latte Family, who created Richard’s Reading Room at the Armoury Resource Centre and created a legacy of giving in memory of their son, Richard

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. My name is Cheryl Latte. I am a mom of five, and a grandma.  I love to help create spaces and sanctuaries for others. Thus far I have helped create a number of spaces including: a playroom at another charitable organization, a family space at an assisted living facility, and have helped set up and decorate homes for new refugee families. Of course Richard’s Reading Room is the space that started it all. When my son Richard passed away tragically at the age of 22 from testicular cancer, I was a mom who was deeply grieving and needed to find something positive to focus on in the face of something so tragic. I thought of YESS and the rest, as they say, is history. I am so humbled that this small space has become an integral part of the YESS landscape, and that Richard (and our family) continue to make a positive difference in the lives of others. 

2. What are some of your strongest beliefs about YESS? YESS helps kids. That is the long and short of it.

They help youth in so many ways:  their physical and mental health, and emotional needs.

YESS gives them a safe place to be and a soft place to land when their world is anything but. 

3. What is something you wish the community knew about YESS and YESS youth? When I visit the Armoury to tidy Richard’s Reading Room, or to bake with the kids there, I always come away with far more than I give. I can’t count the number of thanks and hugs I have received over the last 7 years. I am always awed at the level of kindness and compassion I see in these kids, and that they are so grateful for the smallest of gestures. I have had the privilege of hearing some of their stories, and they have asked me to share mine. Sharing our stories… it is how we connect with each other, despite our differences. How fitting it is that those stories are often shared in Richard’s Reading Room: a place where stories abound.

4. What inspired you to give to YESS through an endowment? When we were planning the grand opening of Richard’s Reading Room in November 2012, it became apparent that the monetary donations we received from the community to create the room exceeded what we needed at the time. We were lucky enough to meet with a representative from the Edmonton Community Foundation, who suggested that an option for the remaining funds could be to create an endowment fund in Richard’s name. We were excited to go ahead with this, as it would mean that Richard’s legacy would continue to give back for years to come. 

Although the direction of the “Richard Latte Educational Fund” has changed a bit over the years, I’m thrilled to know that Richard’s Reading Room at YESS will continue to receive funds regularly, which will allow the space to continue to be updated, homey, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing, and filled with a selection of good quality youth literature. It will continue to be a “sanctuary within a sanctuary.”

Richard’s chapter is finished, but his story continues thanks to Richard’s Reading Room at YESS and the endowment fund established in Richard’s honor with The Edmonton Community Foundation.

If you’re interested in or have any questions about endowments or legacy giving, please contact our Philanthropy team at giving@yess.org.   

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Got Milk?

The YESS kitchens do thanks to a partnership with Alberta Milk!

 “It has been a huge relief for our kitchen to not have to worry about where we are going to buy milk for our kids,” says Cherish Hepas, YESS Kitchen Supervisor. “Thanks to Alberta Milk and their long-term friendship with us, our kids are given the amount suggested to us by the Canada Food Guide. We need more friends like them! They are giving our youth a healthy beginning to a new future.”

Alberta Milk is proud to partner with YESS and to be part of providing our youth with proper nutrition. Says Charmaine Blatz from Alberta Milk, “Alberta Milk is proud to support initiatives such as this. We understand the issues that face these kids and are happy to provide support the YESS in all the programs they have.”

Recipe

YESS Dream Summer Smoothie

With frozen peaches and mangos, these quick & easy smoothies can make any day a tropical dream.

Servings: 1 smoothie (recipe may easily be doubled)

Prep Time: 5 Minutes

Total Time: 5 Minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup peeled and sliced peaches, cold (frozen peaches should be thawed)
  • 1/2 cup chopped mangoes, cold (frozen mangoes should be thawed)
  • 1/4 cup mango nectar, cold
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 of a banana
  • 2 teaspoons agave (optional)
  • ½ cup of 0% Greek yogurt

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and purée until completely smooth. Pour into a tall glass and enjoy cold.

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Volunteering at YESS

Many hands make the work and healing done at YESS possible

YESS volunteers are a huge part of the work we do in our youth programs, in our offices, at special events, and around our buildings every day. In 2018, 435 volunteers gave 5021 hours of their time and dedication to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing. Volunteers are community individuals, students, and corporate teams looking to give where they live.

At the 2019 YESS Gala for Youth volunteers greeted guests, sold raffle tickets, and helped set up and tear down the incredible Underneath the Stars experience. Our gala and golf tournament would not be the same without our event volunteers. YESS volunteers are also part of major community events such as Interstellar Rodeo and this year’s Edmonton Craft Beer Festival that benefit YESS. They are part of the impact YESS is making on the community.

In programs volunteers help wake up youth in the shelter, serve lunch at the daytime resource centre, and host fun events for all youth like Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties, and BBQs.

One team of volunteers that has done a lot of work over the past two years is Distribution NOW. Their enthusiasm when they come to YESS is so contagious and we’re always happy to see them!

“The DistributionNOW Lights Program was created to encourage our people to look for ways to support organizations and causes that help others and improve our communities,” says Nan Mifflin, General Manager of the Edmonton Distribution Centre at Distribution NOW. “As an industry leader, DistributionNOW believes it is our responsibility to use our influence and relationships to promote increased philanthropic efforts throughout our Canada-wide branch network and with our industry partners.  DistributionNOW is a proud supporter of YESS and their vision to walk beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration.”

Volunteers also help in the maintenance of our facilities at Whyte Ave, the Armoury Resource Centre, and Shanoa’s Place. Led by our amazing Facilities team, volunteers organize donations, plant gardens, tidy yards, and paint. Some volunteers take on even bigger jobs, like at the United Way Engineering Day of Caring. Volunteers with engineering backgrounds replaced roof shingles, installed new flooring in shelter areas, and built a new patio base in the Whyte Ave yard. It was a huge “done in a day” effort that we couldn’t have accomplished without them!

We like to share the quote “Changing the world always needs volunteers.” Our volunteers are truly making a positive impact in the lives of youth by working directly with them, creating safe spaces for them, and providing support for resources that empower them. This work is changing our community, creating a city where we can all heal together.

Are you interested in sharing your time and dedication with youth on their journeys towards healing? Visit YESS.org/volunteer to check out volunteer opportunities and apply to volunteer!

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Letter from Margo – Summer 2019

Every youth should have a safe place to call home.  This is our goal, but we cannot do it alone.  You’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”—it takes a community to walk alongside every youth with no place to go, and to ensure no youth ever feels alone.  No one will be forgotten.

We want to change the way our community views homelessness. It is never a choice: the youth who access YESS and other vulnerable youth-supporting agencies have experienced trauma in one form or another, whether it is at home, on the street, or even within our care systems. They do not trust the adult systems or communities that failed them, and they believe that the abuse, neglect, mental illness, or negative experiences that have happened to them are their fault.

Investment in our youth is an investment in our community.  Making an investment in programs, staff, and housing for youth gives them the space to heal, learn to trust, and learn life skills every child should be provided. 

It currently costs just over $6,000 to serve one youth at YESS for one year. Compare this number to the approximately $112,000 it costs our city to serve entrenched and addicted homeless adults. It is also important to note that YESS currently receives just over 20% provincial funding for our operating budget. We spend most of our year fundraising to keep operating.

We need your help—we cannot do this without you.  Look to our future. Help us to give our kids the future we all deserve. A future that will give back to the community that believed in them and never gave up!

You are truly part of the community our youth need. Let’s #healtogether at YESS.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature
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Spring 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 leads to donations of almost $13,000 annually.

Oven-Roasted Root Crops with Chicken

  • 8 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 8 ounces potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces romanesco broccoli, trimmed to similar pieces
  • 6 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths, thick ends halved lengthwise
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried, divided
  • 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary or 3/4 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 2.5-3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 475 degrees. Toss brussels sprouts, potatoes, shallots, carrots, garlic, oil, 2 tsp fresh thyme, 1 tsp fresh rosemary, sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper together in a large mixing bowl. 
  2. In a small mixing bowl stir together melted butter, remaining 2 tsp fresh thyme, remaining 1 tsp fresh rosemary, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place vegetables in a single layer on an 18 by 13-inch baking sheet, arranging brussels sprouts in the center. Place chicken, skin side up, on top of vegetables, arranging thighs around the perimeter of the sheet. 
  4. Brush chicken with herb butter. Roast until thighs register 175 degrees, 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through roasting.
  5. Remove sheet from oven, tent loosely with aluminum foil and let rest 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter or plates. Toss vegetables with pan juices, season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to platter or plates and serve warm.
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YESS Art Connections Program Empowers Youth

In February we hosted ART at ARC: Stories of Resilience, Strength & Creativity, the youth art show and sale to celebrate the artwork created by youth in the YESS Art Connections Program. There were over 80 pieces of original art in 8 types of media and up to 100 pieces of printed art! This program is an important part of helping youth on their journeys towards healing, providing them with a safe space to express themselves and work through their trauma through the power of art. Their guide to exploring their creativity is Svitlana Kravchuk, art program facilitator. Svitlana is a multidisciplinary artist, mainly concentrating on painting, mixed media, and performance art.

“I feel like there are a lot of talented young people in our community who have a lot of passion and creativity that should be shared with others,” says Svitlana. “I wanted to be a part of their support system through making art together and finding way to visually express and communicate what might be going on for them.”

Portrait of Svitlana by Jeremy Vanderweide

“Often when youth are traumatized, the first piece of them to disappear is their voice; being able to speak their truth, say what they feel, identify what scares them and reach out for help,” says Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation at YESS. “When a youth is silenced through trauma, talking with a therapist or a friend or a youth worker can be intimidating and easier to just avoid, despite a system that pushes for youth to speak up and speak out. If youth do not have the tools to rebuild their voice, they will forever stay silent in their journey. Art and the art programming at YESS have been an incredible outlet for youth to begin to build a relationship with their feelings and their thoughts. It is a visual representation of their stories, their emotions, and their world view, and it allows them to see positive and healthy responses to their expressions. Art gives them back their voice and reinforces that their voice is important and beautiful.”

There are a lot of new experiences to come in the Art Connections Program with Svitlana at the helm. In April there will be a workshop with spoken word artist Buddy Wakefield. Buddy is a three-time world champion spoken word artist who will also be performing at Underneath the Stars, the 2019 YESS Gala for Youth.

Our partner in sharing this love of creativity with our youth is Simons, who have generously supported the YESS Art Connections Program for severalyears. Simons is committed to celebrating arts and culture in all their diversity and beauty. Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations in Edmonton, is very proud of how Simons champions the young artists and supports the Art Connections Program at YESS.

“Our continued commitment and support of the Art Connections Program at YESS is truly an honour for us at Simons,” says Yvonne. “Art evokes emotions, inspires conversations, and creates community. You can’t help but be inspired by these talented youth who take us on remarkable spiritual journeys. Their ability to convey messages of hope and healing in an honest, genuine, and pure form is courageous.”

The Art Connections Program also gives youth the opportunity connect with other artists, cultures, and communities.

“What I am most looking forward to is inviting Indigenous artists as well as other artists who represent our communities to share their own stories, knowledge, and experiences through art,” says Svitlana. “I’m hoping to engage more youth and more professional artists in the program, helping youth to be proud of their work and motivated to continue with their artistic endeavours.”

Svitlana uses her own art to explore concepts of displacement, trauma, and female experiences. She understands how art can be used as a powerful tool for expression and coping.

“Everyone’s experience is different. For me, art is a raw expression of heart, mind, and soul. Sometimes it can act as an emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual release and grounding. It can also act as an incredible communication tool that tells a story or reflects where the artist may be in their journey.”

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Underneath the Stars at the 2019 YESS Gala for Youth

On Friday, April 26, guests joined us Underneath the Stars at the 2019 YESS Gala for Youth!

Guests arrived at the Edmonton Convention Centre and entered The Stars Align Foyer, a curated gallery full of youth art in a collaboration between YESS, iHuman Youth Society, and the Trinity Youth Project. There were installations, demonstrations where guests could create their own artwork, and there was a game with our own Trauma Care Team. Bethany and Marcia shared their expertise to teach guests how trauma affects the brain and body, and how the trauma-informed care model at YESS is helping youth heal.


Photos by Nancy Critchley Photography

The hall was transformed into a galaxy of stars, an awesome sight for everyone to behold as they entered. Thank you so much to our event planners at Foundry Conferences & Events and Invert 720 for the cosmic magic they created.

There were two raffle prizes available for guests to go starry-eyed over: 100 bottles of wine generously provided by Sherlock Holmes Hospitality Group, or a wellness package with items from Ballet Edmonton, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, MC College, Prana Yoga Studio, SVPT Fitness + Athletics, Simons, and Too Fit Fitness.

We were excited to welcome back Ryan Jespersen as our gala emcee. As Ryan invited guests to put on their 3D glasses, the lights went out and the screen displayed an amazing animation of Earth and its place in the cosmos, to the narration of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot.”

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Carl Sagan

Then Ballet Edmonton took the stage in a special performance to Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Under the direction of celebrated Canadian choreographer Wen Wei Wang, Ballet Edmonton has been the resident contemporary ballet company since 2012. The company pushes the boundaties of the traditional ballet aesthetic to allow for new, exciting physical vocabulary to emerge. Ballet Edmonton is a not-for-profit organization that is committed to artistic collaboration in the dance and arts communities.


Photos by Nancy Critchley Photography

After the ballet company, a single dancer took the stage. Mataya is a young Cree person from Calling Lake First Nation. She is currently attending Grade 12 at McNally High School and is a resident at Graham’s Place, on of YESS’ transitional residences. Mataya performed the Jingle Dress Dance, a traditional healing dance of many Indigenous peoples. Women and girls who perform the Jingle Dress Dance often pray for healing of loved ones. This dance gives people strength through emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual struggles. Mataya started dancing when she was 7 years old and she is looking to continue practicing powwow and travel across Turtle Island sharing her healing dance with other.

“Mataya feels as though there is yet a lot of healing to be done, not only in her personal life, but also healing of her family members and of our whole community altogether. When she hears the beat of the drum, it makes her heart beat faster—it makes her happies and takes the heaviness off her shoulders, like the rain washing away the pain.”

After these performances, Ryan welcomed Mayor Don Iveson to the stage. He shared a message of hope and gratitude to all organizations that are walking beside youth and the community that supports them. “Things are getting better for kids thanks to you and thanks to staff and thanks to people who make events like tonight possible… Making sure we uplift every Edmontonian, making sure no one gets left behind.”

After dinner was served, YESS President & CEO Margo Long took the stage to share with guests what has been happening this past year at YESS.

“A sense of community cannot occur when we view traumatized youth as “them.” They are not “them,” they are us. It requires every one of us to empathize and walk beside those who are in pain. Play a part in the power of connection and healing.

“Our youth are kind, they are brilliant, they are creative, they are hilarious, and they are tough as hell, and they’ve been hurt so very badly let’s invest in a future that is rich with their contribution and their voices.”

Margo Long, YESS President & CEO

Margo also shared information on the return on investment our supporters are part of when they donate to YESS. It costs $6000 to support one youth at YESS for a year and last year we saw over 800 youth in our programs—including shelter, trauma-informed care, access to counselling, life skills resources, and more. It costs $112,000 to support an adult entrenched in homelessness and addiction. Programs for youth trauma and homelessness are truly an integral part of diverting people out of homelessness at a crucial time in their lives and create a community where everyone can feel safe and supported and heal together.

Photos by Nancy Critchley Photography

Three-time world champion spoken word artist Buddy Wakefield took the stage to share a series of poems about honesty, forgiveness, and healing. Buddy is not concerned with what poetry is or is not and delivers raw, rounded, disarming performances of humour and heart. “Forgiveness is for anyone who needs safe passage…” Many guests were deeply touched by Buddy’s words and gave him a standing ovation.

In the grand finale, international stars and local talent The Melisizwe Brothers took the stage. Their charisma was undeniable, and there is something so special about youth supporting youth. This talented group of brothers has been featured on The Ellen Degeneres Show, New Year’s Eve at New York Times Square in front of over 1 million people, America’s Got Talent, and provided lead vocals on the Netflix series Motown Magic.

After an exciting live auction with incredible packages from Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company, Central Mountain Air and The Cloutier Family, Impark and the Edmonton International Airport, Giselle Denis Fine Artist, WestJet and Suzanne & Michael Dudey, and Workshop Eatery, Knight Group Real Estate, and Paul Woida, the starry evening came to a close. Guests were invited to join us at the gala afterparty at Revel Bistro & Bar!

Thank you so much to all of the guests, sponsors, donors, performers, and volunteers who joined us Underneath the Stars at the 2019 YESS Gala for Youth! We hope you all experienced a sense of connection and community!

We are so excited to share that this year’s event raised $260,355 in support of YESS programs and services for youth who have experienced trauma!

We are so grateful for your support as we walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration.

A special thank you to our sponsors who made this event possible:

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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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