Meet Our Youth: Gabriel’s Story

The Power of Play

When Gabriel first came to YESS he was dropped off by his friend’s mom. He had left his parents’ home, angry after a disagreement and without anywhere else to go. He confided in his friend, whose mom brought Gabriel somewhere he would be safe and have access to resources that could help him mediate things with his parents, find appropriate housing, and support him in his goals.

After staying in our shelter for a month, Gabriel moved into our long-term residence, Graham’s Place. The homelike environment provided Gabriel with the resources he needed to focus and grow. Still a high school student, Gabriel already has plans for the future and knows how hard he needs to work to get there.

“I would like to be an electrician,” says Gabriel. “Although I currently live here in Edmonton, I don’t necessarily need to live here my whole life.”

While helping Gabriel identify his goals and finding resources to support him, our youth workers learned that Gabriel was a huge soccer fan and player. They knew that getting Gabriel back into his athletic interests could be a huge help for him.

“Youth who have experienced trauma, neglect, or abuse are often in a state of constant vigilance against the possibility of recurring trauma,” says Dolphin, YESS Relationship Worker. “When we are on guard against bad things happening to us, we’re not concerned with learning new things. We’re concerned with our survival.”

Whenever we can get youth to participate in recreational activities, we try to take advantage for the many benefits we know it can provide. Play and physical activity help relax the brain’s stress response and make it more engaged with learning. When our youth are able to play, it means that they feel safe and are releasing their stress—key developments in the work we do with our youth.

Finding Gabriel a way back into soccer was a perfect next step. Dolphin found a team and a coach who saw Gabriel’s potential and wanted to make this opportunity possible for him. They have waived his fees for the season.

“Sports and athletics give youth an outlet to release and take in their emotions,” says Rob, Gabriel’s new coach. “It’s our duty to make sports more accessible to kids.”

In February, Gabriel played his first game with his new team. He has experienced some other breakthroughs too.

“I was able to resolve the issues with my parents,” Gabriel says. “I spoke to them and asked them how they were doing. We decided not to dwell on the past, but to look forward to the future.”

Reconciliation will still be a long journey, and it is so important that youth like Gabriel have somewhere safe to stay where they can continue to be supported in their goals, whether that’s for their education, their career, their sobriety, their mental health, or their family life. Positive experiences at YESS helped pave the way forward, and Gabriel’s hard work has brought him a long way.

“If I could say thank you to one person who helped me become who I am today, it would be my dad. He helped me a lot and provided for my needs,” says Gabriel. “I would also say thank you to YESS because they helped to build my relationship between me and my dad.”

With goals for his education and dreams for his future, we know Gabriel is on the right track to a positive future and healthy independence. We’re so proud that we’ve been able to cheer him on every step of the way. Go, Gabriel, go!

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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 has led to donations of over $13,000.

Our youth love to try new things–maybe you’re the same! If you’re looking for a fresh recipe full of spring flavours, try out this recipe from our friends at The Organic Box.

Brown Rice and Fresh Pea Frittata

Ingredients:

3/4 cup fresh peas (frozen works well here too in a pinch)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1 cup cooked brown rice
7 eggs
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper

  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet and add the green onions and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the peas and parsley and a splash of water. Cook until peas are bright green, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Beat the eggs and milk in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rice and then then pea mixture.
  4. Heat remaining 1tTbsp oil in a nonstick pan. Pour in egg mixture, using a spatula to lift the eggs and tilt the pan to let eggs run underneath.
  5. Cover and turn down to low, shaking the pan every few minutes to prevent burning. Cook for about 10 minutes or until eggs are just set.
  6. Remove to a platter and let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Meet Our Youth: Alyssa’s Story

After Alyssa made her life-changing decision to come to YESS, it was still a journey for her to open up to staff and ask for what she needed. She was lonely and afraid, not sure what to expect from the other youth staying here. Alyssa had been in foster care since she was 10 years old, and in her first year she was moved 13 times.

For a girl who had feared being alone her entire life, making the decision to come to YESS was not an easy one. Alyssa had developed unhealthy relationships with toxic people rather than be alone, but here she was: at YESS, by herself, trying to break away from the cycles that had made her so unhappy for so long.

Finally, Alyssa brought herself to open up to staff and access the supports available to all youth at YESS. She had a major breakthrough with our Substance Use Counsellor and set her goals for sobriety and putting up healthy boundaries in her life and her relationships. From there, she was able to start building up on her new foundation. Every goal achieved, both big and small, helped her become stronger and more positive.

“When I became sober, I felt like I became a completely different person,” says Alyssa. “I was positive about life, talkative, met good friends, and felt like I was able to succeed and move on from pretty traumatic events in my past.”

Alyssa even overcame her biggest fear. “YESS helped me embrace that it’s okay to be alone and be independent and do your own thing—that’s the time I felt like I could succeed the most!”

Once YESS felt like a safe space, Alyssa was free to explore for the first time what it was that made her happy. She discovered music, both the piano and the ukulele, and the power of making art. Staff have fond memories of listening to Alyssa play her ukulele.

“Working with Alyssa was an absolute blessing: She’s one of the most dedicated, determined, and quirkiest people I have ever met,” says Resource Worker Belen.

“I was able to learn little things that I’ll be able to carry with me forever,” says Alyssa of the programs at ARC. “Even things like going for a walk and having gratitude in my life.”

Then something happened that neither Alyssa nor the staff at YESS had ever expected. Working with a Navigator on finding a job, Alyssa got a position with Stats Canada that would take her to eight communities in the Northwest Territories!

Alyssa got on her first plane ride ever and headed up north. Equipped with the skills and confidence she had built at YESS, Alyssa worked hard and was promoted to Crew Leader Assistant. YESS staff looked forward to Alyssa’s phone calls and loved hearing all about her adventures.

When her assignment was up, Alyssa returned to Edmonton. Her experience at Stats Canada helped her secure another job and she has now been living independently for just over a year.

Accomplishing so much during her time at YESS has given Alyssa the drive and the confidence to set big goals for the future. She has applied to MacEwan University for the fall semester to get her diploma in social work. Eventually she wants to get her master’s and become a therapist.

“I feel that in the time I was in foster care, I was able to get a good feel for what a social worker should be,” says Alyssa. “There are great kids out there who have been dealt unfortunate circumstances in their lives, and they need the right people to support them and help them make choices to lead healthy lifestyles.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Alyssa! Congratulations on everything you’ve achieved—the future of our community is bright with your potential!

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YESS Champions: Jim and Elsa-Marie Frazer

Meet long-time YESS Champions Jim and Elsa-Marie Frazer!

Tell us a bit about yourselves!

Jim and I have been married 55 years and have lived in the Kenilworth district 54 of those years! Jim is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants and still does work at home for clients as well as volunteering. I am a former teacher, bridal consultant, and was involved in retail. For the last 16 years I have also spent many hours volunteering at SEESA (Southeast Edmonton Seniors Association) and last year received the honour of a life membership for outstanding service.

How did you first get involved with YESS?

Jim and I got involved years ago with YESS when our daughter (now 50) volunteered there and enjoyed it so very much. We have 2 children, Shelly and David, and 4 very precious grandsons ranging in age from 20-25. Our children and grandchildren are our most prized possessions in life and therefore we cared about the youth at YESS who didn’t have a home. We have donated many different items including food, clothing, bedding, toiletries, as well as monetary donations over the years, even giving donations to YESS as Christmas gifts.

What would you say are some of your strongest beliefs about YESS?

Children are our future world and most of them have not caused the situations they are in. YESS gives them that security in their lives so they can succeed in school, music, art, or whatever their interests are and that feeling of self-worth that they don’t have when they come to YESS. At YESS they feel loved and wanted.

YESS is making such a difference in many children’s lives and needs to grow larger with our help and the government’s help. Many youth are involved in drugs and have mental illness problems due to the stress of life and perhaps home situations, but YESS gives them a great haven to help them through their issues.

What inspired you to join the Champions League and become a monthly funder?

In the present economic conditions, grants and other funding are not easy to come by, so we decided to donate monthly instead of giving at different times of the year. This way YESS knows the exact amount they will have to work with. We still will donate at other times too, just to give their budget a little boost!

We chose YESS as one of our charitable agencies as we see and know where the money goes and what great accomplishments are made with the youth who take shelter there. More funding helps to get more staff, which allows YESS to offer more programs for the youth. Donating time as well as money to help our youth—our future world—is so rewarding in your own heart.

We wish all the staff and youth at YESS the very best always. To others who find it in their hearts to donate time and/or money, please do and reap the rewards of helping our future world, our children, to fulfill their dreams and succeed in life.

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Message from Margo

December 1st was the launch of our new holiday fundraising campaign, “YESS is Home for the Holidays.” As this is my first message as Executive Director, I thought I would explain the rationale behind our new campaign.

Winter can be a brutal and unforgiving season in Edmonton. For most of us, the holiday season offers some light, love, and connection during the coldest, darkest months. For YESS kids, this season emphasizes what they don’t have: a home. A home is not just the shelter and basic needs a house provides—a home is full of warmth and love and family. For youth experiencing homelessness and difficult realities, YESS is home in every sense of the word.

The purpose of the #YESSishome campaign is to bring awareness to the intangible and most necessary component of YESS: our staff. Much of our fundraising goes to pay for staff salaries—a cost that is less tangible, but definitely the most impactful. It is YESS staff who provide the warmth, love, connection, and safety of home.

It is our front-line staff who might identify a potential suicide risk and work to create a support plan. They are the ones teaching youth how to cook a healthy meal, do laundry, and buy groceries on a budget. They are the ones giving First Aid and CPR in emergency circumstances. They give hugs, model respectful relationships, teach cleanliness and personal hygiene, and share dating and life advice. During the holiday season, they are the ones planning and creating experiences like dinners and sleepovers and gift openings to create celebrations and fun that we take for granted. And before they do all of this, they work to build trust with kids who have experienced high levels of trauma.

So, our campaign is simple. For YESS youth, YESS is home for the holidays. Help us keep our home full of the family that helps youth from difficult realities heal and move into sustained, healthy independence. Help us continue to make YESS home the whole year round.

Make YESS home for the holidays and all year round with your donation at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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Letter from a Donor

The harsh realities of homelessness can be difficult for the average person to face. We received this touching letter from a donor who was initially startled to meet a homeless youth, but wanted to do right by all young people experiencing homelessness by donating to YESS.

“Late last week my husband entered an ATB vestibule to access the ATM machine, about 2 a.m. He walked in on a young man sleeping on the floor, who was startled into wakefulness. Unsure what to do and concerned, my husband walked out again. The young man followed him out and said, ‘I’m sorry, please go in, I am leaving’. My husband watched him walk away and then went inside. When he told me this story the next day, my heart just broke. We talked about how being so startled and uncomfortable caused him to not act like he normally would.

“If he could go back for a do-over, he would have given the young man his gloves, toque and coat. He would have called me to get up and come over with warm food. We would have asked the young man if we could take him anywhere to be safe and warm.

“That young man said, ‘I’m sorry’. No, no, no, child. We are sorry that you do not have a home where you feel you belong and safe and loved. And that we did nothing to help you, just let you walk away. Alone.”

Thank you to our donors who have made our youth feel seen and loved this holiday season. Your gift will make a difference throughout the year. Give today at yess.org/YESSishome.

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Meet Our Youth: Mariah

I was 18 years old when I had my son. When I found out I was pregnant it was right around the time I stopped drinking/using. I became very dedicated to having my baby. When he was born I never felt so much love in my whole life. I felt this new kind of love. I named him Heyden Ryker and he was born December 15, 2012. My life completely changed after that. I went to Breamar High School for three years and my son went to the Terra day care at the high school.

I struggled so much having to take care of my son. I felt like I was all alone. All of my natural supports were so unhealthy. My family didn’t want to help me and I was carrying the burden of being responsible for the well being of my whole family. I was not only going to school and taking care of my son but also taking care of my whole family. I struggled with domestic violence with my son’s father. It was really hard to be together in this relationship and also try to take care of my son.

The best thing I ever did as a parent was show my son all of the love in my heart. He will be 5 years old this year.  He is so calm and loving and gentle. I lost my son due to the domestic violence. I was unable to give him a safe place and take care of him properly with all of the negative people in my life. I lost my son and then everyone disappeared. No one was there for me when I wanted to try and get him back either. I gave up on everything and myself.

I thought a family was when everyone helped each other out no matter what. I felt like everyone had turned their back on me and I felt so betrayed. My son’s father went to jail around this time and it was the first time that I was alone, in my whole life. Even though my relationships with people might not have been good for me or my son it was the worst thing that could have happened at that time in my life to have no one. The worst thing to feel was being by myself and scared and unable to cope without them.

At that time I found the Armoury and the YESS shelter. I was using and drinking and eventually tried to take my own life. I actually overdosed and was taken to hospital. I just couldn’t deal with the fact that I had tried my very best and no one would help me. The betrayal and abandonment and not having my son in my life took away my ability to care or desire for change. All of the love that I felt when I first had my son was gone and I was angry, bitter and sad. I then became an IV user. I was so gone that I even forgot I was a mother. I didn’t want to feel. I was in this place for about a year long, scrambling around Whyte Ave with a toxic group of people I thought were my friends. YESS was the only place that I had. I would go to the shelter and the staff would remind me that I had a son and they would push me to try and come up with a plan to change my life around.  For a whole year this was a daily occurrence with staff. I was missing my visits and it was because I didn’t want my son to see me that way. I still felt like I wanted to give up but the staff just patiently waited for me to want to shift and change. They told me I didn’t belong on the streets. And I didn’t. I was bullied and used and taken advantage of. My addiction got so bad I didn’t know if I would make it.

I don’t want to focus on my past anymore. I feel like I hold on to a lot of things but I accomplished so much in my treatment programs. I would go to meetings all the time, all throughout the week.  I disciplined myself so strongly because I wanted change. I had enough of Whyte ave and the people I thought were my friends. I had enough of people telling me I couldn’t do it and I couldn’t get my son back. I am so resilient. I always have been but I didn’t see it until I had gone through treatment. I now see myself as someone who helps people and I see myself as a leader. I want to help people, even the ones who hurt me in my past. I want to go to school and I want to do big things with my life. Treatment taught me that there is so much more to life…there is a moment where you tell yourself this is enough and I am done. I had to discipline myself to remind myself EVERY DAY that I did not want to go back to where I was.  I worked so hard to build up all my supports to be where I am today.

It is still so hard. Every day I have thoughts about how easy it would be to go back to the way things were but then I play that tape forward and realize what I would be choosing. All of that is over for me. I can feel it and see it and I am reminding myself. It is a relief that I know I don’t want that anymore. The repetitive cycle of insanity…it can stick with you. I feel like I have a lot of people who really want me to make it. Even when I didn’t think I could. I have people in my life who want to see me be the best person and mother I can be. I only started to see it when I got clean. If I never went through treatment I would not be who I am now.

I needed to go through all of this to be who I am today. It was hard and unfair and I didn’t deserve any of it and I didn’t ask for any of it. I only wanted good for my son. I never saw myself as someone who would end up the way that I did…but it happened. I never saw myself as that person.

Every day I see all the good things in my life. I want to help youth who are going through similar situations.  I want to help youth that struggle because I know it and understand it. I want to be a good role model and lead by example. I don’t want to repeat the cycle of so many aboriginal families. I want to be successful. I want my son to grow up better than I did.

My greatest achievement would be going to high school while I was raising a child. I am now going to upgrade and I only need one more course. I am going to go to Norquest and when I applied I thought I would need so much more upgrading but I only need one course to set myself up to get post secondary education. That is amazing and I am so proud of that.

I also finished 90 days of treatment at Poundmakers and went into the aftercare program and spent 6 whole months in the treatment process. I never wanted to do anything for myself it was always for my boy.  Treatment was for me and I feel so proud of that. I did this for me and no one else and I am clean today and that is a huge accomplishment. I have had my own apartment for a whole year and have done this without any issues…which is so amazing. I will move into a two bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and we will have the second room so that I can get my son back.

If I have to narrow it down to whom I would choose to thank in my life I would say Dolphin from YESS and my boyfriend. I have known Dolphin since I first became homeless. He encouraged me do these goal charts and I was so angry and unwilling but he was so patient and persistent at the same time. Trying to get to know me and help me. I learned how to sit with my feelings and I had never had that before. To help me process what my choices are and why I make them and what I really want to do. He made me angry at first because I did not want to sit with my feelings but then later I would thank him. He was always there and making sure I was okay and reminding me of what I surround myself with. He didn’t give up. I feel so grateful and happy that he came into my life. And my boyfriend, he started in my life as my best friend and now we are together. When we met I was going though all these things and so he knows everything. No matter what he stayed loyal to me. He would help me get to appointments and encouraged me to rebuild my relationship with my son. We would talk about the future. We are finally in a place where we are living out the future that we had envisioned for ourselves. He is so loyal and has been by my side. I never knew someone could love someone as messed up as I was.  He loves my son and wants to be a part of my life and my son’s life and this means the world to me. He really helped me get to where I am today.

My biggest advice to someone who is going through what I went through. Don’t give up on yourself. It is all about whom you surround yourself with. Seek out supports and look through all your resources. Go to meetings and talk to people that have changed and want to change. Learn to love yourself; you would be amazed at what is possible.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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Meet Our Youth: Jude’s Story

Jude lives at Shanoa’s Place, one of our long-term residences that provides a home environment and constant support for youth who are working on big goals like school, sobriety, and employment. Jude sat down with us to tell his YESS story, from being scared and newly homeless to feeling confident and looking towards the future. The connections he built with our staff helped him discover his true self and his goals.

What was life like before you came to Shanoa’s Place?

I was isolated and lonely and scared to rebel against my parents and their religion. My family are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When you first came to Shanoa’s place what was it like?

It was a little scary because I was coming off the streets and I had never been in this situation before, but everyone at the house was very friendly and welcoming.

Can you share one of your first memories of Shanoa’s Place?

I was really sick when I first came to Shanoa’s Place so I immediately went to my room and tried to sleep. I also hadn’t had a private room for a month because I was couch surfing and staying at Nexus [YESS’ overnight shelter]. I remember the occasional screaming and one of the youths knocking on my door saying he wanted to meet the new kid. Little did I know, the screaming came from my roommates yelling at their computer games and my other roommate who just wanted to meet me really bad. I became really good friends with everyone that week.

What are some positive changes that have happened since you’ve been here?

I learned to stand up for myself and I found my self. I learned who I really am and I’m still learning. I’m a lot more confident than before. I’ve also learned how to take care of myself.

How have you learned to take care of yourself?

My parents used to take of everything. They monitored and criticized everything I did. I now have learned how to look for jobs and go to school by myself. I’ve learned how to become motivated.

I also learned how to make friends on my own because I was only ever able to meet Jevoha’s witnesses. I was only allowed to meet “parent-approved friends”.

If you can give advice to younger people who are going through the same thing that you did, what advice would you give them?

Think for yourself. When you’re raised in a certain situation it can be scary to remove yourself from the bubble but you have to think for yourself. I’m infinitely more happy on my own. So do what makes you happy. There isn’t any point in life if you don’t do what makes you happy.

What do see for yourself in the future. What goals do you want to accomplish?

I want to continue to grow and find myself. One day I’d like to have kids of my own and show them that there’s more to life than being a sheep. I want to teach them from a young age to think for themselves. People shouldn’t have to go through all the pain of facing homelessness and being separated from the family in order to think for themselves and make their own choices.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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YESS is Home

YESS is Home

A former YESS youth shares her story

I was a high risk youth, with little to no support. I adore my parents but addiction was and is their biggest struggle. My first experience with homelessness was at twelve years old. I simply stopped going home to physical and verbal abuse and the types of men my mother brought around.

Over the next few years I lived what I knew—drinking and abusing drugs. I lost count of how many times I dropped out of school, or how many times I had hurt myself in some way. I had nowhere to go, and no connections to anybody or any resources. I was not capable of making the changes I needed and was convinced I would not live to see adulthood.

When I found YESS, I was taken in and given a safe place. I was never one to trust easily but something just felt right. A youth worker showed me how capable I was and taught me how to take responsibility for my actions and take control in my life. At YESS I slowly stopped abusing drugs. I was allowed to be sad and I was allowed to be heard. I was allowed to feel; something I had never experienced before. I stopped self-harming and I developed healthy boundaries.

My experience with YESS was life changing. I went from a child finding heroin needles around the house to a young adult with safety, security and a future.

YESS was my home not only during holidays, but also throughout the year. I knew I could always count on them. YESS changes lives; I know it saved mine.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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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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