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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Brush chicken with herb butter. Roast until thighs register 175 degrees, 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through roasting.
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.
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.”
“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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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
“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
“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
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
Because, when it all comes down to it, we are all underneath the great beautiful stars in our sky… and we all belong.
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.”
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.
Winter Vegetable Strata
Adapted from The Kitchen Paper (thekitchenpaper.com)
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed (1″)
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup shallots, minced
2 bunches kale, chopped (2 cups)
8 cups crusty bread, cubed (1″)
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 tbsp fresh thyme
2 cups half & Half cream
1 Cup gruyere, shredded
2/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped, for topping
Preheat the oven to 425. Toss butternut squash with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet until fork-tender (20ish minutes).
In a heavy-bottom skillet, melt the butter and add the shallots. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Remove from pan and set aside.
Whisk together mustard, thyme, eggs, and 1/2/ & 1/2. Set aside.
Arrange the bread, squash, kale mixture and cheese in layers in the skillet, reserving a handful of cheese for topping.
Pour the egg mixture over everything in the pan. Let the bread absorb the eggs for a few minutes (up to an hour in the fridge).
Reduce the oven to 350. Cook the strata for 45-55 minutes, or until the center is no longer wobbly. Add the reserved cheese and broil for a minute to crisp everything up.
Let cool for a few minutes, top with hazelnuts and serve.
My name is Tom and I am 21 years old. My girlfriend’s mother took me to the YESS Shelter about three years ago. I was in a real emotional state and I was new to homelessness. I accessed the Shelter and the Armoury Resource Centre for a decent amount of time. I would be dead if it wasn’t for YESS. This is so serious, and it is not a joke. I want to say thank you to anyone that plays any sort of role at this organization. I know that sounds vague but it is true. YESS helped me realize that I wasn’t just born to be a homeless person. That has been the hardest thing for me to do, is to change that mindset. When you are homeless it feels like you are worthless. Every day I am working to get rid of those feelings. The staff at YESS, they care. When you are homeless it feels like no one else in society cares and getting over those feelings is still a struggle. So yeah, the staff at YESS, they help save people.
My greatest accomplishment has been getting clean. I have had 4 overdoses and honestly, I just happened to get found. For some people they don’t get found and they die. I saw these things happening to the people around me and to myself. I watched my girlfriend basically die and then get revived. The effects of drug addiction are all the same and it is all terrible and it doesn’t matter what drugs they are. People need to know how serious that is.
For my future, I see general happiness, which is really nice. Five years ago it would have been impossible for me to say that. I have been with my girlfriend now for 3.5 years and the only condition for our relationship is that we are both clean. As long as I am not on drugs, I am happy. And I am doing that now. I will also always be thankful to my girlfriend’s parents. They did everything they could to help get me sober and they did all the hard stuff, the stuff that made me hate them, but they stuck by me, and us.
The daily connection to resources at YESS helped me prove to people that I was working on things. The bus passes that they provided helped me so much. Honestly, the ability to move around the city was a huge deal for me and helped me significantly. Having somewhere to go during the day kept me out of a lot of stuff. And having that is what helped me get to where I am today. When you are living in your addiction the only things on your mind or taking up your time are dealing drugs, buying drugs, dealing with gangs, and you become like an animal and like all those drug instincts they take over. So when you do have those brief moments where you think you want to get out of it, then being at YESS gives you the support to work on those options.
The world used to seem really harsh and cold and not a nice place to be at all. And now it seems like it is so much different. It always felt dangerous and not a place I wanted to be and now my perception is shifting.
I started working at a salon as a barber about two months ago. It gives me a sense of purpose and validates my creativity. It gives me an outlet. I’m so thankful I am working. I would really like to go back to school to become a hairdresser now that I know what all of this feels like.
If I could give advice to someone who is dealing with addiction and homelessness I would say don’t even think about it just go to detox. There is never a perfect time so just go do it. I went 11 times and you just have to keep trying until it clicks for you. It is like anything: you repeat things until you learn it. You keep trying until you learn how to live your life without drugs. And eat something! It plays such a big role in how you feel. You have to eat. You need nutrition. Take advantage of shelters and the food they have to offer.
I would say to people that don’t know anything about homelessness, that everyone’s situation is different. I hope that people will not be so judgmental of homeless youth. Don’t put us down. We are trying so hard just to be alive every day.
You’ve served on the YESS board for a number of years. What was it about the work YESS does that first drew you to YESS?
I moved to Edmonton 11 years ago as general manager of a hotel on the south side,and was first introduced to YESS through assisting with complimentary meeting space, rooms, etc. which we were happy to provide. We became more involved as our employees participated in Homeless for a Night several years running, so our employees actually chose YESS as our local charity to support. I always felt that YESS was a great fit for our hospitality team as both strive to provide a safe, welcoming environment and comfort to people in need of shelter.
How does serving on a board empower you to give back to your community?
When I look at my own three kids who have grown into healthy, confident young adults, I am incredibly grateful that my wife and I were able to provide a stable, loving home for them and provide them with opportunities to grow and thrive. Working on the YESS board has allowed me to give back by supporting this amazing organization providing sanctuary and support, walking beside Edmonton youth to help them build successful lives after suffering trauma and homelessness during their most critical formative years.
What has been your most remarkable experience at YESS?
The most remarkable thing about YESS is the staff. I am in awe at how committed and passionate they remain through dealing with challenges and incidents every week, and sometimes every day, that would break the spirit of many people. The shelter they provide, programs they deliver, and relationships they build with Edmonton youth facing difficult realities is truly remarkable and changes lives—not many people can say that about the vocation they have chosen, and we all need to be grateful for the people who make organizations like YESS possible.
What do you wish the community knew about YESS?
I wish everyone in Edmonton understood that homeless youth will grow into homeless adults or suffer even worse fates if we don’t act to help them, and there is not nearly enough focus on youth homelessness by all levels of government or funding for organizations like YESS. YESS provides emergency shelter, residential programs, daytime programs, and many other forms of assistance in three facilities, but 70% of our $4M+ budget comes from fundraising efforts. Executive Director Margo Long is working with similar local agencies to build a network dedicated to helping youth, but we need to change how the community and governments view youth homelessness and provide funding in keeping with the scope and consequences of the problem.