Donor Spotlight: Louise Davis

It is a gift in itself to be able to so eloquently share deeply personal memories that echo resilience in times of hardship, and ultimately, a determination to find wellbeing. Long-time annual donor, Louise Davis, generously reflects on a time when love, belief, forgiveness, and compassion made all the difference in her journey through adolescence and life choices. She is certain of the powerful impact of constructive support, care, and guidance in young lives. Louise shares her confidence in the very real difference that can be made, and the better future that can be built, when a child knows that their well-being is our utmost concern.

 

I was born in 1932, the eldest of three children, at the beginning of the Great Depression. Everyone was poor so there were very few class distinctions. As I recall, until my mother became ill, we were happy with a loving extended family, grandmother, aunts, and uncles. Everyone tried to help us, but it meant that we, the children, had to be separated during school holidays so my father could work. In 1943, when I was eleven years old, my mother died at 34 years of age after suffering terribly with cancer. At that time, although everything was done to help her, medicine was not as advanced as it now is. As the oldest child, I understood what was happening. This affected my entire life and the choices I made.

The death of a parent is a life-altering event for everyone, my father included. He was young, at an age when today many men begin their first marriages. Here he was now with three bereaved children, so after 4 years, he married again. Unfortunately, the relationship between his new wife and we children was not happy or healthy, so we again became separated. My brother always said he could have used YESS at that time.

My sister and I became nurses. I spent most of my apprenticeship caring for people with cancer, but later concentrated on psychiatry. My sister developed a love of babies and worked in maternity. My brother was a businessman. We all valued family above all and built happy, secure homes. I had no children, but my brother and sister together have eight well-adjusted, happy young adults, most of whom have started families of their own. We made certain that our families would not suffer instability by working together, providing unconditional love whenever needed.

There were few community supports when I was a child, but families were larger and stronger in some ways. When my husband and I heard about YESS we decided to be supporters. Children are our most valuable asset. They are trying to build a system of identity, ethics, and beliefs to support themselves as they grow and learn, but they need help to do this. Disruptions at the teenage years are disastrous, especially if they interfere with the love and support they need. Sometimes parents are ill, or ill-equipped to care for their children. At other times they have not had a good experience themselves to pass on to their own children. There are many reasons for family instability and failure. People, like me, who can help should do their best.

I chose annual donations because I use investment income for charitable purposes. It is not until late in the year, after I know what is required to maintain my home and support for family that I have a true picture of funds available for others.

All I know about YESS youth began with my own experiences with family instability. My sister, brother, and I made our way to adulthood with the support of extended family and friends. We were separated, but kept together emotionally so that we could strengthen our ties as adults. We knew we were loved. That is what is so important. Young people need to know that others care about what happens to them personally. I think YESS can do that and that I can help in my small way. Nothing is more precious than our youth.

 


 

The potential to change young people’s lives is exciting! Every gift, regardless of the size, allows YESS to fund the ongoing operations that support the life-changing programs and resources that empower our youth to heal, improve their wellbeing, and find connection and stability. Your gift is a deeply appreciated motion of confidence in the leadership and activities at YESS. Do you already support YESS with an annual donation? Thank you! Please consider the power of an increased gift that would be gratefully received and help us to enhance and grow our capacity to respond to unique and important opportunities that will further serve our youth.

To make your annual donation, visit YESS.org/donate or contact our Development Office at 780-468-7070.  We’d be delighted to speak with you and hear what inspired your gift!

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Community Spotlight: Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE)

This month we want highlight the work being done at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE). May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month in Alberta, and May 5 the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

We talked to Meital Siva-Jain, Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Initiatives Team Lead at SACE. Meital shares the programs and resources SACE offers as well as the impact she sees their work having on the community, from youth to older generations.

Tell us about your organization and your role.

The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton’s mandate is to support people impacted by sexual violence and to change the attitudes and values that lead to sexual violence. We offer counselling services to ages 3 and up, support and information lines, police and court support, public education, and community and institutional support. We offer these services to all genders and backgrounds at no fee. We also have a Diversity and Inclusion program that works to ensure our services are accessible to anyone that might need to access them.

I joined SACE in 2014 and have been leading the Diversity and Inclusion program since then. Under this role I focus on building relationships with other organizations and community members to address barriers to services. This role has allowed me to learn from community members about how systemic barriers impact their access to support. I also learned that addressing those barriers is often the support that folks need to do their own healing.

One way to address barriers is to offer tailored content and services. Last summer, a group of SACE staff started creating a resource for newcomers in Canada that provides information on consent and healthy relationship in accessible and inclusive language. This work included many community consultations with partner organizations, and it resulted in the creation of Landed. We are very happy to see how well Landed has been received by the community.   

Is there anything new or innovative your organization is currently promoting or focusing on?

We’re excited to soon be offering the WiseGuyz program to our community; WiseGuyz  is a school-based program for grade nine boys that addresses the issues young men face and gives participants tools to engage in healthy relationships.

We’re also now offering training for professionals and care providers working with older adult populations. The trainings seek to provide those in the elder care sector with the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to recognize sexual violence in their places of work and supportively respond to older adults who have been recently or historically impacted by this issue. We’ll be releasing a one-pager handout and learn article that summarizes key information from the presentation and that service providers can use as a reference and to promote awareness and competency in their workplace around elder sexual abuse. We hope this information will be a reminder to folks that it is never too late to start healing.

How do you see your organization’s impact on the community?

I see our impact in twofold: the impact on survivors of sexual violence and their families, and on the community at large. In terms of survivors, it is important for people of all genders and backgrounds to know they can be heard and accepted. As a survivor, I remember that just the mere existence of a sexual assault centre made me feel acknowledged. So I think that the first impact of SACE is that survivors know there is a place dedicated to support them. Being believed and accepted helps with healing and ultimately contributes to a healthier community.

The second part of our impact is in the community level. Like others in the anti-violence sector, we work hard to promote consent and show that violent behaviours are linked to specific attitudes and values. Our approach is centred on non-victim blaming education, and we use an anti-oppressive lens when working with communities. I am an optimist and see a positive shift in how the public understands sexual violence and addresses it.

What is one thing you wish the community knew about the realities that youth currently face when it comes to sexual health and safety?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth are more dependent on social media to connect with their peers. Many of us did not grow with social media and we need to remember that beside social connection it can also offer great resources and support for kids. For example, I hear from my daughter how youth use social media to promote inclusiveness and “cancel” people who use offending behaviours. It is our responsibility to teach kids about sexual health and healthy behaviours, and to provide them with this toolbox to better navigate the digital world. But we also need to trust them when they use it and not blame them if they experience any kind of violence.

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May Message from Margo

Hello everyone, and welcome to May!

This month’s newsletter theme is safety—one of the key principles of trauma-informed care. Safety is an incredibly important focus at YESS and it is at the forefront of our minds as we experience a third wave and all of its fallout in our communities. Safety is not just focusing on emergency procedures or proper handling of things that can cause harm. In trauma-informed care, safety and “felt safety” is created with predictability, consistency, and honesty. When we create safety, we build trust. We show that we value the humans we are influencing or looking out for, and we show that we can be trusted to do what we say we are going to do. This issue highlights an interview with Director of Program Innovation and creator of our Trauma Programming, Jessica Day, describing the concepts of safety and “felt safety” in our programs. We spotlight our new Manager of Operations, Darin Maxwell, and donor friends, James Flett and Judith Dyck. Our Community Spotlight features the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) and an interview with Meital Siva-Jain, their Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Initiatives Team Lead. And last, but not at all least we have another incredible recipe for breakfast tostados from YESS Chef Tiffany.

Stay safe out there, folks, and take care of each other.

Read the May Newsletter here

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International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia! This message comes from YESS Youth Worker, Ian Brown:

“YESS demonstrates that our programs are safer spaces by having informed and confident staff who are able to address homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia firmly and in real time. When leaders in the space don’t allow violent and hurtful things to be said to, or about, 2SLGBTQ+ people, we are letting everyone know that they are valued and can exist safely in the space. Symbols of support such as pride flags, ‘safe space’ signs, and introducing pronouns in our daily practice are important, but the most proactive way to create a safer space is setting an explicit boundary against violent, hateful, and hurtful language and actions against 2SLGBTQ+ people, while teaching and modelling accountability for the impact of that behavior.”

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Sacred Space

In the fall of 2020, youth accessing the Armoury Resource Centre during the day started to express interest for a quiet, sacred place where they could specifically begin to explore their spirituality, reconnect with their religion, and have a space to be able to smudge and pray. Programming Coordinator Shantell Martineau was there to collaborate with various aspects of YESS programs to meet that need.

“Youth wanted to learn how to meditate or practice box breathing. When I met with clients to go over cultural connection pieces or medicines and how to use smudging, that was when I knew we needed a space that could be more of a sacred exploration room where one can have privacy,” says Shantell. Part of Shantell’s work with youth is providing cultural connections. Shantell an Indigenous Plains Cree Woman from Frog Lake First Nation, Treaty 6 Territory.

In an unused room at the Armoury Resource Centre, the new Sacred Space was built. There room is inclusive of all religions and spiritualities, with resources for learning, prayer, meditation, ceremony, and culture. When Shantell first introduces youth to the space she explains that there’s no right or wrong way to connect with the space or the resources and encourages them to create a personal space there that meets their needs.

All youth have access to traditional medicines as a resource at YESS. At any time, regardless of nationality, if a youth would like support from medicines, they would meet with Shantell or ask a resource worker. Shantell works with them on what medicines they are looking for and how it is intended to be used.

“That room is where I’ll take youth if they are interested in a medicine bundle or a smudge ceremony pack. I’ll put it together, and then we’ll meet in that space and now that’s where I teach them the protocols of working with medicine and the intentions, and the cultural sacredness of that,” says Shantell. “So that was really the intention of that space, to give them a place that’s their own. Youth have found it feeling so inviting and peaceful and calming, which is what we wanted the space to be.”

The hope is that this space can also function for other programs, such as Wellness Integration. If a youth can find safety and empowerment in the Sacred Space, then that might become a good location for them to access therapy or other resources. The space has also proven to be a positive retreat for staff on their breaks, for their own quiet time or meditation.

“It’s really open to the staff and the youth because we’re all in this together. We’re all surviving a pandemic together and we all need spiritual healing and we need a sacred space,” says Shantell. “As staff, we have to mirror what we want. So if we want the youth to really start a healing journey, are we mirroring that? Are we using that type of language that, ‘Hey, I’m also struggling, and I tried meditation and it helped me.’”

Shantell has even more plans for the space in a post-pandemic world. “The Sacred Space would really be the room that I would invite Elders or Knowledge Keepers to come and visit and connect with us in that space, just because of its intentions and the healing that happens in that room. This space could be really anything that you need it to be. That’s what’s beautiful about it.”

Another driving force of creating the Sacred Space has been collaboration with D’orjay, The Singing Shaman. D’orjay first approached YESS about volunteer opportunities in the fall of 2019, seeking something she could do to help or support our youth. Since then, Shaman D’orjay has been offering healing sessions twice a month. The delivery of these resources has changed in the pandemic, but youth can still meet with her virtually. Through working with Shaman D’orjay, youth have found a foundation to feel empowered and how to practice that in their lives.

“It was from that experience that we saw the need to continue and say yes, this is a nice option for some of our youth who maybe don’t want to engage in therapy in the traditional sense, but who want to start a healing journey,” says Shantell.

Access to different modes of healing has also had a cultural impact on youth.

“Some of our Indigenous youth, they come out of sessions with Shaman D’orjay feeling, like, ‘Wow! I remember being taught this, that I can access energy. I remember being taught this,’” says Shantell. “That intergenerational piece of healing comes through and then I get to meet with them, and mirror their feeling of how quickly my teachings came back to me that I had as a child, and how my spirit felt ready to remember again.

“It’s really helped some of our youth reconnect with their culture, reconnect with the teachings that maybe Kokum passed on to them. They’ve had that pain around teaching that they didn’t want to connect to again. I totally get that. I’ve connected with some youth and I share that I feel that exact same way, that when you experience a loss of a huge cultural strength in the family, that the family does tend to give up those teachings, they give them up, they put them down for a little bit, just because the pain is too great to think about that, you know, to access the teaching. Working with Shaman D’orjay has really given some of our Indigenous youth the foundation to reach out to their culture.”

From meeting the current needs of youth on their individual journeys and in the pandemic, to providing an additional safe space that can be used for current and future programs, the new Sacred Space at the Armoury Resource Centre has provided a unique retreat that embodies what it means to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing.

“What I’m trying to teach youth is that their sacredness is in them, and sometimes we need a quiet space to explore that. I’m really trying to empower them to look within, for their spiritual guidance, whatever that may be.”

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Rest at YESS

Sleep is one of the most important parts of wellness, especially for youth. We talked to Marcia East, Trauma Practitioner, and Camiel Friend, Nexus Program Supervisor, about the ways that YESS provides safe spaces and resources that meet this important need for sleep.

Why is sleep so important for youth who access YESS?

Marcia: Sleep helps to fuel our brain and our body. Youth need more sleep because their bodies and minds are growing quickly. Scientific research shows that many of our youth do not get enough sleep. To be at our best, it is recommended that we get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every day.

In deep REM sleep, our serotonin levels are renewed, which protects us against depression, and our cells have the opportunity to repair themselves. Sleep is like giving our body fuel. Sleep allows us to integrate short term memory into long term memory, aiding in learning and synaptic strengthening, making information more salient in the brain.

How do YESS programs create healthy sleeping environments?

Camiel: The Nexus Overnight Shelter offers sleep support in a few different ways. The most obvious way is the beds, clean bedding, and availability of safe space to sleep! Some youth have different barriers to sleep. This can be trauma, mental health, addictions, insomnia—a variety of reasons that it may be a struggle. We accommodate each individual’s needs on an individual basis. We have space for youth to self-regulate as well as trained youth workers there overnight to support as needed. We manage the program with safety always the main objective. It is important to offer a safe space for youth to sleep for many reasons. Sleep is something our bodies need in order to survive. Offering a safe space through the nighttime hours is imperative to youth in high-risk lifestyles. This is the most vulnerable time in someone’s day and can sometimes be the most difficult. Shelter at nighttime means a safe night.

Marcia: We only drift into deep, restorative sleep when we are feeling safe. When we are feeling unsafe our brain causes us to remain semi-alert for self-protection. Over a period of time, this can lead to psychological problems, such as distortion of reality. Unfortunately, many individuals, including youth, experience deprivation of sleep.

It is important that we provide the kind of environment for youth which facilitates deep sleep, as it regenerates the whole body, allowing us to operate at our best capacity.

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April Message from Margo

Hello everyone,

April’s Newsletter theme is rest. While it seems obvious—that we all need rest—it is often the last thing we take for ourselves. Leaders, with huge responsibilities and priorities… need rest and a pause to recharge. Children and youth, who are growing their bodies and brains and learning how to relate to themselves and others… need rest. Rest is time for regrowth, rebuilding, and regeneration—A perfect focus for April as we wait so anxiously for our glorious Summer. In this issue, we hear from YESS Youth Workers about the importance of sleep and our new Sacred Space at the Armoury Resource Centre. We highlight our United Way Community Partners and give you a little glimpse into our staff celebration. Finally we shine our donor spotlight this month on our friend Louise Davis and we say thank you to our friends at Ron Hodgson.

I encourage you all to get some REST.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Volunteer Highlight: Dutch Delicious

Volunteer Spotlight: Dutch Delicious

The team from Dutch Delicious started volunteering with us in the summer 2019. About once a month they would lend their hands to helping in the kitchen or doing some much-needed outdoor work at our buildings. For their annual “For the Love of Opa” event in 2019, Dutch Delicious selected YESS as their charity of choice, donating 50% of the event day’s sales which came to over $3000.

When the pandemic interrupted their volunteering schedule, the Dutch Delicious team was still eager to help with outdoor work in the summer, following all necessary health protocols.

“I am just so proud of all the work and service to our community that Siebe and his staff have done for YESS,” says our Volunteer Programs Officer. “I feel even though they are a small group they really achieved so much and always exceeded my expectations, so willing to help.”

 Tell us about your organization and how you came to volunteer at YESS.

My first interaction with YESS was at the Ice on Whyte festival. Beside the booth we had as bakery was a coffee stand that was run by volunteers of YESS. A kind older gentleman helped to serve coffee and we chatted regularly, and he even ended up coming to the bakery as a regular customer. During this time we were working on the branding of our company and chose the line “Nourishing Community.” We thought it fitting to have this line connected to our company and the tasks we perform on a daily basis. One leader at the bakery said rightly one day: “Why don’t we really show our true colors and actually go out into the community to help out?” It was then that we met up with our friend and asked for contact details from YESS.

Why did you choose to volunteer at YESS and how do you see your impact as a volunteer?

Although we started because of our connection through a customer, we are blessed to make a difference for YESS as an organization as a whole. Originally we signed up with the kitchen to be helpful in the food area, since we do food as well. Learning that our tasks are not about us but ultimately about the youth you serve, we decided to be blessed as long as we could do anything to minimize the wish list of the organization as a whole. So painting railings, pulling weeds, shoveling snow all helps to have your staff take better care of the youth. In this way we see the youth better served because we could take care of the little things for you. 

What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

We as a company really wish that people knew more about the trauma of these youth. With that we can see how much good the organization does as a whole to heal, nourish, and prevent the youth from pain points and danger.

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National Philanthropy Day 2017: Simons

Celebrations are an important part of our lives. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events with our friends and families. National Philanthropy Day is celebrated on November 15 each year by YESS and dozens of other agencies in Edmonton, across Canada, and even around the world. This year we have nominated three of our donors for special recognition on National Philanthropy Day. They joined us at the Shaw Convention Centre where the Association of Fundraising Professionals hosted a feast and a fete for hundreds of donors from Edmonton organizations. Please join us in thanking our nominees for their extensive and expansive support of homeless youth in our community.

Simons

Simons has become deeply invested in taking action through YESS’ Interactive Art program and has made a powerful impact in our youth’s lives. Thanks to our long-term partnership with Simons, the Interactive Art Program was developed and continues to mentor and build the talents of our youth. When they find an art form they are passionate about they are able to use it as a tool to express themselves, learn new things, and set new goals—all skills that can change their lives. Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations at Simons West Edmonton Mall, tells us, “We feel very strongly that reaching out at this level is a small step in advancing the confidence of youth. It allows them to express feelings through their work that they might not be able to verbalize with others. Art is a voice that can never be silenced. Art is a voice that needs to be heard.”

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National Philanthropy Day: The REALTORS® Community Foundation

For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!

The REALTORS® Community Foundation

For 26 years, The REALTORS® Community Foundation has both inspired and encouraged Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) in its delivery of supports and programs for our youth. The team began in 1994 with their Edmonton Bike Nights and Ride for Kids community fundraisers, sponsorship of our annual Golf Classic. We have been the beneficiaries of their time and unique skills with volunteering. They’ve given the gift of enhanced safety to our kids with their investment in the security system upgrades at our Armoury Resource Centre (ARC), pride of home with the upkeep and renovations of our buildings, caring comfort with new furniture within our programs. And, their most recent investment in our Art Therapy Program will help to facilitate connection, self-expression and healing for our youth. The REALTORS® Community Foundation continues to weave a lasting, sustainable legacy within our organization, the lives of our youth, and the community at large. YESS is so grateful for the support of the REALTORS® team for helping to shape our future and strengthen the critical supports for our youth as they they address they address life-changing trauma and homelessness.

“The REALTORS® Community Foundation has proudly supported YESS since 1989 and in 26 of the last 31 years. Their tremendous compassion for youth facing homelessness in the Edmonton Area is evident in their programs and facilities. By meeting youth where they’re at and offering diverse programs, youth of many backgrounds and interests are able to connect to positive paths forward, empowering them to achieve their goals and contribute to a strong, vibrant future for our community. The Foundation has committed to a three-year pledge to YESS in support of their continued efforts to support youth in our city which will bring total giving to the organization to over $300,000 upon fulfillment. REALTORS® care about the communities in which they live and work; through the Foundation they invest in charities, such as YESS, who are doing the important work so needed to create opportunities for all community members to thrive.”

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