Staff Interview: Rhonda Friskie

Creating a sense of physical safety is such an important part of the work we do! Meet Rhonda, Facilities Maintenance Supervisor, to learn more about the work our Facilities team does and how they are part of creating spaces for healing in our buildings.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario. I have been working at YESS for a little over ten years now. I am a single mom of two amazing boys who definitely keep me on my toes. I love Yoga, Indian food, 80s flicks, and the color pink!

How is your department part of YESS’ mission to walk beside youth on their journey towards healing.

The Facilities department provides youth with a safe, clean, and welcoming environment. We are responsible for performing a variety of cleaning duties, as well as the maintenance, and upkeep of our buildings. A few of those tasks include keeping our donation rooms stocked, providing clean bedding, keeping program areas sanitized, and providing the youth with warm nutritious meals. 

Having lived experience with homelessness as a youth myself, it provides me with the ability to understand their needs, and a different perspective I might not have otherwise.

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

I wish the community could see how strong and resilient these kids are. 

It takes incredible strength to get up and face the world each day with the barriers they have in front of them. Youth experiencing homelessness face all kinds of stereotypes, and people often assume that they somehow brought this on themselves, or that they’re bad kids, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

These are kids. They are just like yours, and mine. All they want is to be accepted, to be seen and heard, and most of all to be loved. 

In my ten years at YESS, I have met some incredible youth, and have been blown away by what some of them have accomplished in their short stay here. It’s amazing what one can do when given the proper resources and having someone believe in them.

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YESS Hours Move to 24/7 Model

When COVID-19 made its way to Canada, Alberta, and then Edmonton, we were all asked to take the necessary steps to be sure that we kept not only ourselves safe, but our neighbors, our families, our friends, and our co-workers.  As an agency we implemented policies to keep our doors open and all of you as safe as possible, which meant adapting our working arrangements to reduce exposure for those of us who are required on site to take care of each other and our youth – that because of all the closures had no where else to go. Out of our responsibility to our community and our youth we made the decision to keep our doors open 24/7 – and we will continue to do so permanently.

This decision is so important and is best explained by our Tessa Mulcair, Manager of Shelters:

“With Nexus covering 8PM-11AM and the Armoury Resource Centre (ARC) 11AM-8PM, every single day, we have seen a dramatic reduction in the stress that our youth face when there are no safe places to be at certain hours of certain days. With COVID-19 affecting many agency/program hours and operational abilities, our youth struggle to have their needs met consistently outside of YESS right now. While the pandemic is still filled with fear for all of us, having the 24/7 model in place ensures that our youth aren’t further compounding that trauma with having to worry about finding shelter/food/bathrooms/etc. during the evening and weekend hours…

“From everyone at YESS, we want to say a huge thank you to all of the staff who have continued to work the frontline through all of the many changes to scheduling and procedures. You are an incredible, inspiring team that has never stopped putting the youth first through this all.”

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Medicine Walks

Shantell Martineau, YESS Programming Coordinator, has been hosting Medicine Walks with youth twice a week for the month of August, right in our own Edmonton River Valley.

On these walks Shantell shares knowledge about the traditional medicines of sage and sweetgrass, medicines she has been taught to pick by kokum (grandmother). Shantell shares with youth how to use these medicines to support spiritual healing and growth.

“We hold a small ceremony at the site where we find these medicines and offer tobacco as an offering to Mother Earth. It is by this offering that we then pick the medicines in a good way to not damage the plants and leave it so it will return for many years to come.

“The ceremony also teaches us how to do our own part to protect Mother Earth, and to think about our own personal footprint we leave behind when we visit the land. Medicine picking does this natural teaching to make us acknowledge that the land is not ours but is a gift for us to protect so future generations can thrive.”

If you are interested in cultural experiences with Indigenous leaders in our community, check out Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. They post upcoming virtual programming on their Facebook page.


About Shantell:

  • Cycle Breaker. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school with a diploma, and the first to attend a university and graduate from post-secondary
  • I am the Mother of three future Cycle Breakers, two dogs, and a cat.
  • Why I do what I do? The youth are the future! Why not do my part and invest in the future. They will change the world if given the opportunity.



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Mac and Cheese Recipe with YESS Chef Tiffany

Alberta Milk continues to be an awesome YESS partner, donating $6000 this year! Being able to provide healthy and nutritious food for our youth not only fulfills a basic need, it also helps build trust and develop a sense of safety youth feel in our programs.

Alberta Milk is a non-profit organization that represents Alberta’s dairy producers. They support family-owned and operated dairy farms in their work to produce safe, nutritious food in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable way.

Get a serving of dairy and follow along with Program Kitchen Coordinator and YESS Chef Tiffany Sorensen to upgrade a box of mac and cheese! Tiffany has been making instructional cooking videos that feature common ingredients or items from emergency food hampers to share with youth who are learning to cook.

For more recipes with Alberta Milk visit


Upgraded Mac and Cheese


Box of mac and cheese
Protein of choice
Onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp flour
¾ cup of milk
Herbs (such as thyme or sage)
Kale or spinach
Salt and pepper
Grana Padano or parmesan


1. Add salt to boiling water, then add the pasta. Cook for approximately 8 minutes until al dente.

2. Strain noodles and set aside. Save ¼-1/2 cup of pasta water for sauce later.

3. Warm up a pan, add 1 tbsp of oil and cook protein of choice on low-medium heat to render the fat without burning. Once cooked, set protein aside to be added later.

4. In the same pan, saute onions on low-medium heat.

5. Add 1 tbsp of garlic and saute with onions.

6. Add butter to the pan and melt. Add flour and cook on low to prevent burning. Flour should be golden.

7. Incorporate milk while stirring. Simmer to thicken.

8. Add herbs, cheese packet (about ¼ of package that came in the mac and cheese box), cooked protein, pasta water, kale/spinach, and cooked pasta. Season with salt and pepper—be mindful that the cheese packet also has salt and taste as you go.

9. Finish with Grana Padano or cheese of choice.

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The Importance of Indigenous History Month

The Importance of Indigenous History Month, and the Impact of Creating Connections to Culture for Indigenous Youth

This topic is deeply personal for me. I am an Indigenous Plains Cree Woman from Frog Lake First Nation, Treaty 6 Territory. I grew up in a constant state of feeling alone, and alien in my own community. I grew up in Edmonton, off of reserve, and have felt that deep disconnection to culture every day. I am a product of deep roots of colonialism and abuse to my people. Growing up, there were no youth organizations fighting for connections to culture to be made available to youth living in the “City.” My first identity statement didn’t find its way home to me until I became an adult and started my own healing journey. I was brought up to think I was Métis and not First Nations because my own family, at one point, was escaping the Residential School System. That is powerful to acknowledge and accept as my own history started to unfold before me.

This is just one personal account of how the History of Indigenous People is still deeply felt today. There are still those who feel that loss of identity, that loss of culture, and that feeling of disconnection to our communities. Then there is the global feeling of our Nations being disconnected from the land we were given by Creator to take care of. My own connection to Mother Earth is broken and has been broken for many generations. I know I am not alone in this global feeling of “brokenness” and “loss”; I know that there is still more work that is needed.

Indigenous History Month is vital in the movement to educate ourselves, our allies, our newcomers, and those who may not know our history otherwise. I was told from an Elder once that: “To know where we are going, we must first understand where we have been.” There are many activists in our communities fighting every day to ensure we as Indigenous People have representation in these discussions about Reconciliation and the Reclaiming of the Land. I do my part by educating myself and listening to those who have come before me. Indigenous History Month is that catalyst that reminds me every year to be better and do better for my people. Now in my role at work I have been given this beautiful opportunity to listen to those voices who will come after me.

The youth we walk beside every day are our future. They will change the world if given the opportunity. So how can we lift our youth up? How can we build that mountain higher so they have a better view than the generations before them? Well, I think we do that together. As a collective we work hard to ensure Access to Culture and Traditional Ways of Living are available for ALL Indigenous youth, not just those living on Reserves and Settlements. We CREATE the Safe Spaces for youth to engage in ceremony. Walk beside them as they start their own healing journey. Start those conversations about our Indigenous History and empower them to find their voice in the conversation.

As more awareness happens to the collective mind of the world we, as individuals, can do our part by taking the step to educate ourselves so we can support the education of our youth. There is still more work to be done, but today, you can do your part to EMPOWER the youth you work with to start that journey home.

About Shantell:

  • Cycle Breaker. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school with a diploma, and the first to attend a university and graduate from post-secondary
  • I am the Mother of three future Cycle Breakers, two dogs, and a cat.
  • Why I do what I do? The youth are the future! Why not do my part and invest in the future. They will change the world if given the opportunity.
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Pride at YESS

“I am passionate about making YESS as safe and as inclusive as it can be for the queer and trans youth who walk through our doors. It is important for these youth to feel like they have access to compassionate and supportive staff as they discover their identity, sometimes for the first time in a judgement-free environment. Doing my best to offer that space consistently inspires me. There are no words to describe the feeling of making someone comfortable enough to be themselves!”

Emilie Duchesne
Resource Worker

Emilie was included in the 2019 Top 30 Under 30: The Gender Equality Edition by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation for her work with YESS, Comité Francoqueer de l’Ouest, and Francophonie Jeunesse de l’Alberta (FJA)

Being a safe support is one of the most important things we do for our youth.

How do we do that?

Our staff understand and are trained in 2SLGBTQ+ issues and offer non-judgmental relationship building.

All YESS program spaces are gender neutral, including washrooms and dorms. Gendered spaces can be difficult for youth in transition, and are also excluding to non-binary people. Removing barriers of gender wherever possible makes sense.

We have in-house programs for 2SLGBTQ+ youth and allies that provide spaces to be vulnerable and grow. We have a Mxn’s Group and Womxn’s Group that acknowledge the importance of gender identity and do not exclude trans people.

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Volunteer Interview: The Village

The Village is a volunteer group of 40 community-minded Edmontonians dedicated to supporting the wellbeing of the staff at Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) and their partnering agencies. With wellness and connection being central focus points, The Village aims to be a hive of ideas and activators with innovative ways to emotionally, financially, and even physically support the building of resiliency for the people who are doing such vital work for vulnerable youth in our community.

The Village connected YESS with organizations and individuals through whom we have received hundreds of masks that we use in our programs, including Earthgroove Activewear. They have also worked with our Social Committee, providing gift cards and prizes for staff events.

Learn more about The Village in this interview with members Carmelle Boston, Denise Van Weelden, and Jackie Fetter.

Tell us a bit about yourselves!

Jackie Fetter: I am a wife (Jeff), mother of two incredible children (Josh & Jill), teacher, creator, adventurer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, event creator, doer, and strong supporter of Edmonton, especially those who need support.

Denise Van Weelden: I am professionally a nurse, intuitively a caregiver.  Some of my best work is in the three humans I have nurtured.  I love to travel, slowly, mostly to see how other people live. Volunteering with various non-profits has been some of the most rewarding work of my life.  I am active everyday, loving our Edmonton ravines and valley. 

Carmelle Boston: I have two kids, three dogs and a cat, so obviously patience is my virtue! I got involved in the Village because it truly does take a village to support our youth. My kids are 17 and 20 and the world today isn’t easy to navigate at the best of times.

The Village created and collected hundreds of masks that we currently use in our programs.

How did the concept of The Village evolve?

JF: I first volunteered with YESS in approximately 1995. I have always seen the value of the services that YESS provides. I helped with the Growing Dreams carnival they used to have. Then as fate would have it, a fraternity sister, Margo, became the ED and we reconnected at a mutual friend’s—Denise’s—event. We started to talk and after over a year of discussion on what the needs for YESS were The Village was born! Margo expressed her deep appreciation for her staff and wanting to support them so that YESS can be the best that it can be. Supporting these amazing front line workers who help our most vulnerable was something that immediately inspired me to say “sign me up!” This is a service group built on a desire to actively support the staff of YESS and similar organizations. The Village is exactly a surrounding framework to the amazing work that YESS does. 

YESS reaches out with needs and we find ways to support them.  Our main initiative is to support the staff needs so that they can be at their best to support the youth. We have rallied to make face masks and collect funds to buy gift cards to local businesses around YESS which are being used to keep the staff feeling valued and appreciated during these uncertain times…  We want them to know they are not alone they are doing an amazing job of taking care of the youth—let us take care of dinner,

DVW: I am rich in people and experiences. I count my friends and family as my best treasure, because with them I know anything is possible. I have received kindness and support, and enjoy sharing back to the community. With that in mind, the concept of The Village evolved. How can we harness the wisdom, creativity, and power of our diverse circles? I want the folks of YESS to feel they have such a circle of support like I have known, that is strong and will not let them down. We seek to resource and be the Ways and Means workers, solving whatever obscure needs that may arise.

CB: I got involved with YESS because of Margo Long. Her vision and passion and ability to see the big picture is a game changer for youth in Edmonton. I appreciate how YESS is taking a community, collaborative approach with other partners—it helps to create cohesive systems for all youth.

What is something you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

 JF: For youth to need the services of YESS things have happened that are not in their control and we can’t judge their journey but we can show them that they are important, cared about, valued ,and matter to Edmontonians. They are not alone, that is our job as citizens of this amazing city.

DVW: I wish people paused to remember their own hard or dark days, then imagine you are a youth without healthy supports to manage. Youth deserve enfolding to bridge them thru, believe in them even in the days they don’t believe in themselves. Our investments in youth pay off in healthy adults, healthy parents, healthy caring communities. Invest your efforts where it will yield amazing results.

CB: Intervention and support when kids are most vulnerable and most scared makes the biggest difference. Providing food and shelter helps, but knowing that others in the community care and want to help plays a major part in helping youth overcome their challenges. We all have something we can do—no matter how big or small.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

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Monthly Donor: Alan Beacham

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Alan Beacham. My wife and I have been married for 50 years and have two grown children. We have lived in in Alberta for most of our lives. I retired from the communications industry several years ago.

What inspired you to start giving to YESS?

 As our kids grew up we welcomed many of their friends and school mates into our home, getting to know a few of them quite well. During that time we came to see the benefits and difficulties that some kids encountered at home, at school, and in their daily lives. We saw that their lives could go off the rails through no fault of their own. Our children went off to further education, met their future partners and started careers and families. We settled in to a routine, but I always wondered what had happened to those young people we had known who had been having a rough time of it. Had they overcome their problems? When I heard about YESS, an organization that helps young people who need mentoring and shelter, I decided to contribute by donating needed items and by helping out financially.

What made you choose monthly giving as your way to give?

My wife and I have attended some open houses at YESS. We’ve seen the facilities and met the amazing staff. Listening to them we came to understand that all donations are welcome, but a steady source of income is important to continue support for youth and to plan for the future. We also heard that government grants come and go. To help give YESS some stability, we decided that we wanted to step up with monthly donations.

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

I don’t think people realize how vulnerable and at risk young people are when they have had to escape abuse and neglect. I try to remember how it felt to be a teenager. I never had bad things happen to me, but I know I’d have been grateful for a helping hand.

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

Start your monthly gift!

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Meet the Youth Education and Employment Team

This story with our Trauma Care Team was originally published in our Spring 2020 newsletter (March 6).

In 2019, YESS launched the Youth Education and Employment Program, a 12-week program that focuses on job readiness skills like cover letter writing and interview skills, workshops for job-specific trainings, and practicum opportunities to help youth identify their career goals. While youth learn work skills, staff provide support and a range of other services to help youth achieve and maintain employment.

This new program is spearheaded by Amanda Van Huenen and Melissa Johnson. Amanda has been a youth worker for eight years and started at YESS in 2018 as a youth worker. Melissa started at YESS in 2015 as a resource worker soon after graduating with her Social Work Diploma. While education and employment have always been part of the focus for youth at YESS, Amanda and Melissa have developed a program that provides intentional career and job training and support all within YESS, so youth don’t have to search out other programs to access these opportunities. This has helped remove barriers for youth who need wraparound support to heal from their trauma and start setting goals for the future.

We sat down with Amanda and Melissa to talk about their experiences in facilitating the first 12-week group of the Youth Education and Employment Program.

Describe the new Youth Education and Employment Program and what it provides for youth.

MJ: The program is 12 weeks. We’re going to do four rounds of it, 16 youth per round. The youth get different tickets, they do different job shadows, they get eight weeks of practicum experience they can put on their resumes, and then we support them move into whatever their goals are, whether that’s education or employment. We help remove barriers to things like work clothes, bus tickets. We’ll provide them with transportation if they need it. All those things that they might not otherwise be able to get on their own. The program has all the support and we’re here all the time if they need anything. We’ve seen a lot of growth already.

AVH: I noticed when I started that there was a gap between youth keeping a job and the skills they need. It was easy to find a job, but a month later they were back at the office saying, “I need to find a new job” or “I need twenty resumes” or things like that. I noticed that gap and I wanted to develop a program that was taking away all those barriers they were facing and give them those tools and the experience of what it is like to be out there working.

[The youth] are getting paid for the twelve weeks. That’s one of the biggest things. It’s helping the youth to start saving or getting housing or finally buying that cell phone that they need to feel safe, so they can make a phone call if something happens. It helps our work in being harm reductive because they don’t have to steal stuff so they can have a sandwich or something. Or maybe they have an addiction and they had to do sketchy stuff for that and now they don’t because now they can provide for it. In a harm reductive way, this program is helping with that.

What are the shadow shift opportunities available?

MJ: We’re trying to have a bank of opportunities to have in a variety of industries based on what the youth are interested in. We want the youth to get into things they enjoy. Landscaping, carpentry, restaurants and kitchens, retail, construction. Those are the big ones.

AVH: Some of our youth are interested in careers, but most of them are looking for entry-level positions.

MJ: The practicums are great in that way. You see youth who think they’re interested in something and then they do the practicum and it’s not really for them. They realize more about themselves.

AVH: We have those conversations with them. We tell them that it’s okay to not know what they want to do. Some of them are very young, fifteen, sixteen. So it’s okay to explore those things. It’s very good for the youth who don’t have a healthy family situation or people who have no home or safety that they can explore these things. It’s very good to have that freedom to do that and not be judged for it. They already get judged for so many other things, right? So to give them that opportunity is good for most of them.

The YESS mission is to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. How do you think the Youth Education and Employment Program is part of that overall vision?

MJ: We really sit down with the youth and we find out what they want and what their goals are. We could plan out a whole life for them and just say “follow this plan.” But we really sit down with them in an interview process, asking them what they want and what they goals are. We’re pushing them towards those goals and we’re there the whole time for support. We’re checking in with them on their practicums, making sure they’re being accountable. But it’s definitely them who lead the way and we give them the resources and remove the barriers so they can accomplish those. And then there’s the “after” support, helping them transition out and integrate into community, so they meet with a transitions worker, they meet with a navigator. They still need to find jobs, go to school, do their resumes, so there’s still a lot of things to do.

AVH: I don’t think of this as just an employment program. We work with the whole team. Everybody here in support services or the trauma team are part of this program. Everyone is putting their hand in—we’re getting referrals here, we’re going there, we have meetings with others. It’s teamwork. Before employment was just focused on employment, but now we’re working as a team.

We have the youth reflect on themselves, give them control over what they want and what their future looks like. And then we work as a team around that to meet those needs, instead of us making those decisions for them. That’s what I like about this program a lot, is that its one big team working towards that program.

What’s something you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

AVH: Their potential. They’re individually unique. They all have something to give. I think a lot of times people see this population as failures, trouble, problems, write them off. That whole negative aspect… They’re just youth. They’re kids. They’re young adults suffering from somebody else’s mistake and we don’t need to constantly put this negativity on them.

MJ: All of our youth have potential and they just need the opportunity. This is the start of an opportunity, but then they need community as well. We need to allow them to be hired at jobs, to be mentored, to be given these things. So having compassion and giving them opportunities because they all have potential. We see so many kids who leave us and go on to be successful in the community and we want more people to help them do that.

Is there a particular remarkable experience you’ve had since launching the Youth Education and Employment Program?

MJ: The youth who we’ve had in our services for a long time, like we’ve had kids who have been here for years, and to see them finally working on something, getting jobs, getting trades tickets, working on resumes, and picturing bigger goals for themselves. I think seeing youth doing that makes this all worth it.

AVH: Because the program’s in-house and specific for our population, to have that develop around them. Every child is different, every child learns differently and it’s the same for our youth. And having such a program that’s created around them makes them feel welcome and like they can succeed.

We have 10 youth graduating from group 1! So that’s a success right there.

If your organization is interested in partnering with our Youth Employment and Education Program as a shadow shift or practicum partner, contact us at 780-468-7070. These opportunities to gain job experience and have a positive, supportive community are a huge part of the healing journey for our youth.

COVID-19 has had a large impact on youth in the Youth Education and Employment Program. We had youth who were unable to finish their work practicums, as well youth that were unable to even start their practicum. Some youth had been doing so well and were being asked to stay on with their practicum as a full-time staff, which unfortunately was unable to happen once COVID-19 forced businesses to lay off most staff. We also had to postpone their graduation from the program as well as the bonus the get once completed. Our group 3 which was to start in March was also postponed until further notice.

With there being limited employment opportunities for anyone during this time it has also made it very difficult for our youth to obtain employment. With no income it is difficult for our youth to work towards their goals including getting a place of their own.


The Youth Education and Employment Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy


Thank you to the Youth Education and Employment Program group 1 and group 2 partners:

Atlantic Fence

Boston Pizza Whyte Ave

Home Depot

Inland Audio and Visual

MC College

Trinity Youth Project

Waiward Industrial

Walk the Talk

YESS Kitchen

Every gift of every size is an investment in the future of our community. Together we can create a community where we can all heal together and thrive together.

Donate Now!

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