Winter Giving 101

We are starting to prepare for the holidays, and we know you are too! We have the extreme good fortune of having a community that is excited to provide during this time of year, so we thought it would be helpful to both our generous donors and our staff who handle the donations to share some more information. Let’s call it Winter Donations 101.

The structure of our programs has changed significantly, so the times and places that we accept donations have also changed. Please follow these instructions so that youth in crisis and the staff who support them are not disrupted.



Donations will be accepted at our Armoury location, at 10310 85 Avenue.


There is a parking lot at this location. Please use the back/north door.



December 4-22, Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM


Thursday, December 14, open until 7PM

Saturday, December 16, 12PM-4PM

Thursday, December 21, open until 7PM




Things we always need throughout winter are: winter jackets, waterproof winter boots, gloves, balaclavas, thermal underwear, warmer clothing, warm socks, self-activating heating pads (like HotHands), lip balm, thermal bottles, headlamps/flashlights, and thermal emergency blankets.

When donating used clothing or goods please ensure that these items are still functional and presentable. For example, a winter jacket that has a broken zipper is not effective at helping keep warm and our youth do not have the funds to have clothing patched or repaired.

Gently used items will generally go directly into our donation rooms for the youth to access right away. It is very helpful if clothing is donated washed and folded, in a recycling bag or box that is clearly marked “washed”.

New items, like clothing with tags still on, will generally be put away for use as Christmas gifts. If you are donating both, you could separate them for us and mark the new items as “Christmas gifts.”  We do not give used items as Christmas gifts, with the exception of electronics.



If you are considering purchasing Christmas gifts for our youth and would like some guidance on how to ensure your gifts are most effective, we have compiled a list of items that are most frequently asked for. You can rest assured that if you donate something on this list it will go to a youth who has specifically requested that item and will be incredibly grateful!

Quality ear buds or headphones

Good to know: Items from dollar stores break after a couple of uses, so one $20 pair is more beneficial than 5 $4 pairs.


Brand name sweatpants and hoodies

Good to know: Men’s and women’s, especially sizes M and L. Please avoid red or grey colours due to implied gang affiliation.


Stylish sneakers and high tops (Converse, Nike, Adidas, Vans, etc.)

Good to know: For men’s, especially sizes 10-13; and for women’s, especially sizes 7-10.


Waterproof gloves

Good to know: A lot of youth are outside for long hours in freezing conditions. A high quality pair of waterproof gloves/mitts goes a long way to avoiding frostbite.


General winter gear

Good to know: Like all youth, those who access YESS want to look trendy, even in winter, so they are always grateful for stylish jackets, toques, and boots (especially sizes 10-14). Lean towards snowboarder style if you’re not sure what to choose.


Reusable water bottles and travel mugs

Good to know: Again, quality is important here as cheap bottles can leak into backpacks and soak belongings.


Smart phones, new or gently used

Good to know: Ideally compatible with a pay-as-you-go plan.


Laptops, new or gently used

Good to know: We have a lot of youth working on finishing high school or starting post-secondary. Laptops are very helpful in creating consistency for schoolwork. Laptops must be less than a year old, with a receipt, to help us avoid refurbishing/disposal costs.


Charging cables and battery packs, new or gently used

Good to know: Any variety welcome, especially portable chargers.



Good to know: Smaller backpacks are good to have for lighter loads, but for youth who may be experiencing homelessness, heavy duty, camper-style backpacks are invaluable.


Gift cards

Good to know: Popular options are Walmart, 7-Eleven, Shoppers Drug Mart, London Drugs, Sephora, Tim Hortons, McDonalds, etc.


Portable gaming systems, new or gently used

Good to know: Age appropriate for 15-24 year olds. With games, if possible.


Quality art supplies


Quality chocolates and candy


Please do not wrap Christmas gifts, as we will have to unwrap them to sort through all the donations and match items to each youth’s wishlist. You can help us by making your donation clearly organized, removing price tags, and not tucking smaller items like gift cards into larger items.



If you are interested in donating food this season, it is most important to our kitchen team that they know what to expect and when. Please contact them ahead of time at or calling 780.468.7070 ext. 238.

We receive a lot of turkeys during this time of year, so if you could help us diversify food donations, that would be amazing! For example, chicken, fish, pork, beef, other proteins, snacks, ready meals, or pantry items/dry goods are all good choices.

We can accept:

  • Donations that have been schedule with the kitchen team ahead of time. Donations arranged with the kitchen team includes perishables, extra items from catering functions that haven’t been served, etc.
  • Non-perishables that are unopened.


For example:

  • any non-perishable pantry foods, like canned foods, dried goods, granola bars, juice, etc. that haven’t been opened.
  • groceries with a receipt for a charitable tax donation.
  • perishable foods from gardens, catering companies, leftovers from events, etc. that have been pre-approved by the kitchen team.
We cannot accept:

  • Perishable foods that haven’t been pre-arranged with the kitchen team.
  • Food that has not been prepared in a commercial kitchen.
  • Food that is in black garbage bags, not wrapped, or have been tampered with.
  • Food that has been at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.


For example:

  • home-baked sweets and meals
  • opened products (pantry goods, perishables, etc.)
  • bread in black garbage bags

You have now graduated Winter Donations 101! Thank you for reading this and taking these ideas into consideration when donating goods this season. We are constantly blown away by the outpouring of love for our youth over winter and we can tell you firsthand from being with the youth over winter and Christmas that they truly appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness.


If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with our team, please call 780.468.7070 or email

Read more

National Philanthropy Day 2023: Vans

YESS is honoured to recognize The Vans Community Fund and the local Vans store in West Edmonton Mall for their continuous leadership and dedication to support youth experiencing homelessness in Canada. Through their monthly donations of clothing and footwear, the dedicated staff at Vans has shown immense positivity when engaging customers on the impact they can have on the youth accessing our programs. In March of 2023, the Vans Community Fund generously donated over $16,000 to YESS. Thank you to Vans and the Vans Community for being a pillar of change and breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Vans WEM makes monthly donations of clothing and footwear

National Philanthropy Day falls on November 15. The day provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of giving and all that it has made possible. National Philanthropy Day celebrates the endless daily contributions individuals and organizations across the world make to countless causes and missions. 

“We support YESS because we see it as a positive institution delivering real change in the lives of youth experiencing homelessness in our community. Within our community Vans gives back through store donations of gently used and nonsalable product to organizations helping youth and families in need. Vans also donates product for Go Skate Day, and during the Fort Mac fires, sent an entire semi trailer of product up from California to help families in need. Each family got a free meal, pair of shoes and piece of clothing. They’ve also been spotted helping out the arts scene here in Edmonton!”

-Jordan McElheran, Store Manager, Vans WEM

Read more

YESS Director of Programs, Delalie Mortotsi, Wins RISE Community Champion Award!

The EMCN RISE Awards celebrate the accomplishments of newcomers and immigrants in the Edmonton area who demonstrate outstanding commitments to creating a more welcoming and inclusive community for all and commendable service to building strong communities through social, cultural, and economic development.

The Community Champion Award recognizes an individual’s or group’s exceptional contributions to their community and their commitment to positively impacting the lives of those around them. They demonstrate exceptional leadership, collaboration, advocacy, and innovations in their efforts to strengthen community awareness for newcomer equity. This can include volunteering time, energy, and resources towards a particular cause or organization, advocating for social justice and newcomer equality, or leading community-wide initiatives to improve the newcomer community’s wellbeing.

Nneka Otogbolu, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Edmonton Community Foundation (left), presents the Community Champion Award to Delalie Mortotsi, Director of Programs at YESS (right), at the EMCN RISE Awards in October 2023

Dela’s nomination was supported by Jessica Day, Chief Programs Officer, YESS; Eman Mohamed, Compass Supervisor, YESS; Karley Spelrem, Transition Team Lead, YESS previous YESS youth; Karis Nsofor, Ethno-Cultural Capacity Building Project Manager, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations; Tina Pye, Contracts Specialist, Alberta Children and Family Services, Government of Alberta; Belen Samuel, Edmonton change-maker.

Here are some excerpts from the nomination forms celebrating Dela’s incredible work!


From Jessica Day, Chief Programs Officer, YESS

Delalie Mortotsi (Dela) joined Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) in 2013. During her time, she has worked in a number of roles, including Executive Assistant, Supervisor of Supportive Homes and Services, Manager of Supportive Homes and Services, and her current role, Director of Programs.

In 2017, while serving as Supervisor, Dela initiated open lines of communication with Alberta Childrens’ Services (CS), the largest funder for our supportive homes. She diligently set about building trusted relationships with various personnel, including CS contract managers, placement workers, case managers, and those working within Northern Alberta Child Intervention Services and the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. Dela’s focused efforts played a transformative role in the system, establishing consistency, fostering communication, enhancing collaboration, and ensuring transparency about organizational and service-level obstacles. This unified approach empowered CS to gain a clearer insight into the work conducted on the front lines, enabling them to provide better support, create standardized procedures, and respond to challenges and issues with heightened efficiency and effectiveness.

Dela’s ability to tackle problems has been noted by CS as beyond impressive and has earned her a respected position where she has been consistently relied upon to guide CS’s agency-wide approach to working with agencies across Alberta.

… As a pivotal leader within YESS, Dela champions growth and development by embracing transparent communications, maintaining consistent leadership, and being open to various perspectives, ideas, and methods to tackle challenges faced by youth or staff. Her influence at YESS is multifaceted and marked by her historical understanding, extensive knowledge, flexibility, agility, and unwavering consistency. She places strong emphasis on accommodation and collaboration, aspects that permeate every layer of the organization. From personal growth and leadership to youth processes, program development, training, community engagement, and interactions with executive teams and various departments, Dela’s guidance shapes and enriches all these areas. Her leadership paints a picture of an adept and compassionate leader, steadfastly committed to the holistic well-being and success of the organization and the individuals it serves.

Dela has contributed unique expertise in supporting newcomer staff and youth within YESS. Her experience in navigating the immigration process and pathways to citizenship have been invaluable. Dela has established herself as a process expert and builds relationships with youth based on encouragement, trust, accountability, and predictability. She extends beyond merely empowering young individuals; she has skillfully created a nurturing environment where they feel at ease approaching her with any concerns or grievances. The youth know that they can count on Dela’s fairness and transparency, solidifying her role as a supportive and reliable figure in their lives. Her nuanced understanding of their needs and her authentic approach to relationship-building highlight her exceptional dedication to those she serves.


From Eman Mohamed, Compass Supervisor, YESS

Delalie (Dela) Mortotsi is an incredible Community Member, Leader, Director, and Friend to anyone who has interacted with her. Dela has been my direct supervisor for almost seven years now. In that time, I went from being a summer student to leading my own department at YESS, and realistically that is only possible because of Dela.

YESS was my first step into Youth Work. While I had worked at other agencies with vulnerable populations, YESS opened the door for me to my love of youth work. If you had asked my young self when I walked into those doors if I would still be working at this organization and be more dedicated as time passed, I probably would not have believed you. However, an incredible mentor showed me how to advocate for clients, be professional and collaborate efficiently to do meaningful work.

There are probably 100 examples I can give about Dela’s work, 100 times where she has gone above and beyond for our clients, 100 times she stayed late to solve a problem, 100 times she worked a weekend to meet clients (and staff) who needed her assistance, 100 times she learned immigration issues to provide support and knowledge to our clients, 100 times she worked programs because no one else was there, 100 times she met with new agencies to provide her expertise to foster better community relations.


From Karley Spelrem, Transition Team Lead, YESS

Beyond her role as a manager, Dela actively engages with the community, seeking opportunities to give back and make a positive impact. Whether through collaboration, organizing fundraising events, or supporting community-led projects, Dela consistently showcases her commitment to improving the lives of others.

What sets Dela apart, is her genuine belief in the power of community and her relentless effort to ensure equality, safety and the prosperity of others. She understands the importance of inclusivity, diversity, and the strength that comes from each individual’s voice. Dela actively promotes and supports initiatives that foster a sense of belonging and unity for everyone in our community, regardless of background or circumstance.


From YESS Youth

I have known Dela since I started accessing YESS as a youth. She has greatly supported me in getting housing, healthcare, and my immigration process. I first accessed YESS after my refugee claimant process was denied in 2014, and I needed emergency housing. I had just moved to Edmonton, knew no one, had insufficient funds to rent a room and had just received a letter of deportation. I first met Dela at the Armory Resource Centre. I desperately needed immigration services, and Dela and the team at YESS helped me get the ball rolling. She has been fighting in my corner ever since we sat down, and I confided in her my fears of being deported with no family to go back to, being alone in Edmonton, and starting to navigate my path. After a few months in the emergency shelter, she advocated for me to get into Shanoa’s place. I stayed until my immigration process succeeded in a permanent residency in Canada. Over my time living at Shanoa’s place, Dela connected me with numerous immigration resources and supports in the community and even education services to help me get my schooling on track. Not only was she diligent with my immigration she also encouraged me to make good decisions. At the same time, in the community, she encouraged me to keep my school on track and attend the various services YESS offers, such as cooking classes and art workshops, where I sold two paintings. One thing that stood out was that Dela encouraged me to focus on all aspects of my life even though all I wanted to do was spend all m time dealing with immigration. Dela is more than qualified for the EMCN Community Champion Award because she has made a lasting positive impact on my life. I am proud to say that I am here with the help of the team at YESS and especially Dela for being a fight in my corner even when I gave up a few times due to immigration delays or setbacks. As an adult, I genuinely treasure her honesty and authenticity with me because she was intent on the best for me and my situation, such as working with me on the letter to request funds for an immigration lawyer, applying for scholarships, getting my first apartment, and being an ear to listen. As a Black youth, navigating certain services or even feeling inadequate to apply for specific resources was challenging. Still, Dela had my back and was a great motivator when I doubted myself. And look, I successfully earned a $2000 scholarship for my first year in college and received $5000 from an immigration lawyer who helped me get my PR. I am genuinely grateful to Dela for all the work and support she has given me over the years, and even when I call and check in with her, I always share my appreciation for having her in my corner since day one. Looking back to when I was 17 years old and entering YESS for the first time, I felt ashamed for being homeless, on deportation, and with no support whatsoever. Yet after meeting Dela, I gained someone who would advocate for me in what I needed, call me out when I needed it and show care, compassion, and respect as I navigated my situation. Indeed, that is the kind of supportive human being she is, and it is deeply reflected in her work at YESS, primarily through the youth she continues to fight for, such as myself.


From YESS Youth

I have known Dela since I was 16 years old, when I moved into Graham’s Place. There were a lot of ups and downs between Dela and I at the very beginning, because she was very protective of me and I disliked having a stranger care for me in the capacity that she showed. At the end of the day she and I now have a great relationship, and that’s because now as a 22 year old I understand where she was coming from and I understand that it’s okay to allow people into your life.

Dela really showed compassion towards me and my situation right from the beginning. I was a minor in a relationship with a much older person who was not a safe person for me to be around, but I didn’t want to leave him. She was determined to break my rose-coloured glasses, and with her persistence and the leadership of her team at Graham’s Place, she succeeded in this. She never gave up on me, always had my back, told me honestly when and where and how I messed up, and showed me how to fix it, and she displayed an emormous amount of love for everybody at Graham’s.

Dela is a hard ass, but that’s one of the many things that makes her such an amazing team leader. She sees where there could be improvement and she strives to create realistic goals to meet the ultimate goal of creating a better space for youth and staff within YESS. She is a never-ending advocate for her staff and for the youth she encounters. Dela is motivated to succeed within YESS and her dedication and many years at the organization show this. She is detail oriented and organized, skills every employer runs after, and she compartmentalizes very well which is an absolute asset in this industry. As a youth, I appreciate her honesty and compassion when situations aren’t quite right and there’s limited resources. That honesty helps me because it shows on behalf of YESS that they care, and that there’s really just not much they can always do for every situation, but Dela and YESS staff always give out information for other agencies or people who might be a better fit for supporting your situation.

When I got pregnant with my daughter, Dela did everything in her power to ensure I was ready to take care of a child, being a child myself at 17. She ensured I had parenting and prenatal classes, Dela made sure I made it to all of my doctors’ appointments and supported me with clothing, a stroller and baby carrier, formula, diapers and wipes, blankets, and everything one would need to start a family. She supported me leaving my ex and becoming a single parent. She had my back every step of the journey and without her love and continuous support I would not be who I am today and my daughter would not have the life she has today. 

Dela has always been a huge support in my life and as she advances in the company, it makes me proud to see that her hard work, dedication, love, compassion, empathy, and kindness has paid off within YESS. I hope to see Dela in a higher position in the future but for now I truly believe there isn’t a better fit for the position than Dela herself.


From Karis Nsofor, Ethno-Cultural Capacity Building Project Manager, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations.

Some of my most memorable stories of Delalie involve her stepping boldly into the role of advocate for youth from immigrant and newcomer BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of colour] backgrounds. In her capacity at YESS, Delalie’s gift not only lies in connecting deeply with those she supports but also in facilitating impactful collaborative spaces and opportunities. Her advocacy efforts ensure that community members are wrapped around in the supports and services that they need to thrive and be actively involved in the community.


From Tina Pye, Contracts Specialist, Alberta Children and Family Services, Government of Alberta

Delalie is highly respected in her professional field, by her colleagues, community members, and most importantly by the youth she serves. I have seen her demonstrated leadership by identifying gaps in services and creating community partnerships to help fill those gaps for youth and young adults. Delalie is assertive and impactful when advocating for change. She builds healthy relationship with every person she encounters regardless of their social-economic status or position. She does not only promote inclusivity; she embodies it in her every word and action. Delalie is an indelible individual, and our community is very fortunate to have her as an active, contributing member. Delalie is a recognized leader in the movement to improve the lives of our courageous young people who rely on the interdependence of community, that Delalie relentlessly helps shape.


From Belen Samuel, Edmonton change-maker

Dela is one of the most selfless, caring, and principled individuals I have ever met. She was one of the first people I met while working at YESS: she has not only mentored me to becoming a better community service professional, but she has also informed the ways that I continue to dedicate myself to the world of community-based support services. She is the reason many community and support professionals like me see possibility beyond the impossible and in the face of limited resources and capacity.

She is not only committed to her work of making life better and essentially liveable for the lives of unhoused and societally neglected populations, but she is deeply committed to solving the precarious nature and issues of migration that uniquely affect so many refugees and immigrants of colour. The most memorable example is the case of an individual who she ensured safety and inclusion for despite and upon state requests of deportation back to the client’s country of birth. Her leadership and advocacy efforts in aligning legal services, provincial and federal consultation, and collaborative organizational teamwork not only resulted in the approved status and settlement of this client, but also made their current life of accessing higher education and supporting their own siblings despite being orphaned and abandoned in so-called Edmonton possible.

Read more

Our Collaboration with Our Neighbours

We spoke to neighbourhood members Elizabeth Showalter and Barbara McPherson, who have been involved in a community group since the summer of 2022. This group’s feedback has been instrumental in how YESS has introduced the concept of the changes in our programs in June 2023, and how we can ensure the felt safety of not only our youth, but also for our neighbours in the Bonnie Doon community where we are based.


Interview with Elizabeth Showalter

Tell us about yourself and your connection with YESS.

I live nearby the Youth Community Support Centre and first connected with YESS last summer. I’ve been able to attend clean ups and meetings to learn more about YESS, get to know staff and help maintain a relationship between the organization and the community. I’ve been working with some other neighbours and the City of Edmonton’s Neighbourhood Empowerment Team on this.


What was your opinion of the changes to YESS programs when you first heard of them?

Having learned about the mental health challenges faced by youth and the need for more supports in one place, I was glad to hear that the changes were able to fill an important gap and address some barriers that youth faced in the old model and provide more staff to support them. 


How have you seen the positive impact of these changes not only for youth, but in the community?

I’ve heard that youth have been able to access more supports for mental health and I think YESS has done a good job of keeping the community informed as change has occurred. 


What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about youth who access YESS?
That YESS is a safe place for youth and that feeling safe is important to them.


Interview with Barbara McPherson

Tell us about yourself and your connection with YESS.

My first connection point with YESS is proximity—I live in the neighbourhood. And then last summer I got involved with the neighbourhood action community group that Elizabeth Schowalter headed up.


What was your opinion of the changes to YESS programs when you first heard of them?

I was very much in support of the new model. It is excellent to see all the resources co-located and available for youth. Now, youth don’t have to leave the building to access the most essential services, and this reduces barriers for youth in how they get help.


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

I found it very compelling to learn that 100% of youth who access YESS have experienced trauma. Across all the different kinds of experiences kids have had, they have this in common. This is significant, and it points to the importance of a place like YESS existing and helping youth find their way.

Read more

Our Collaboration with the City of Edmonton

The City of Edmonton Neighbourhood Empowerment Team has been an important partner in creating a sense of literal and felt safety for our neighbourhood as we have undergone so many changes in YESS programs at our Whyte Ave building.

We have been in closer communication and connection with our neighbourhood since summer 2022. Having the Neighbourhood Empowerment Team be part of these conversations has coordinated so many resources for both the community and the youth who access YESS.

We talked to Maggie Farbrother, Community Safety Liaison with the City of Edmonton, about their team’s experience of this process and the impact they have seen.


Tell us about your organization’s connection to YESS.

The Neighbourhood Empowerment Team (NET) has been working closely with YESS to support a stronger sense of community safety for all in the community surrounding the 24/7 overnight shelter located at 9310 82 Avenue.  In partnership with YESS, Edmonton Police Service (EPS), other City of Edmonton departments, and community members, positive change has occurred over time, allowing for stronger communication and collaboration between YESS as an organization, and the surrounding residential community.


How has your organization been involved in the recent changes to YESS programs?

The Neighbourhood Empowerment Team has been working closely with YESS to support a stronger sense of community safety for all in the community surrounding the Community Youth Support Centre site. Though NET was not involved in the new program changes directly, the existing work to work collaboratively with the community allowed for safe and productive space for community consultation. YESS has worked hard to hear the concerns of their neighbours and take that into account to ensure a better sense of community for all.


How have you seen the positive impact of these changes not only for youth, but in the community?

One positive impact I believe is really beautiful from all the changes YESS has made, is seeing the broader communication and collaboration happening with YESS and in the community. At times there have been differing perspectives on the best course of action forward, and though disagreements continue to exist, there is a strong willingness to work together to tackle issues, not separately but together as a community.


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

Over the last year the community surrounding YESS has taken a lot of time to learn about the programs and youth that access YESS. I do believe that education has helped build a stronger community and sense of safety for all. I wish the wider community beyond this was able to see the challenges, but also resiliency that many of the youth have and face on a daily basis.

Read more

Leading the Way: Edmonton’s First Community Youth Support Centre at YESS

It is increasingly clear that Edmonton is in urgent need for additional 24/7 crisis intervention centres in community associated with agency service hubs and trauma-based mental health clinics. Currently, YESS is the only organization offering this service. Because the need is so great and the strategy is so compelling, we have leaned in to creating the first site to demonstrate and evaluate the coordinated intake and holistic assessment components. In June 2023, YESS expanded on our successful 2021 launch of the 24/7 shelter for youth by consolidating our existing programming, recreation, and primary medical care from the Armoury Resource Centre into the Whyte Avenue location. Our intent is to address the immediate need we are seeing for youth in crisis and build a strong evaluation model for the Community Youth Support Centre that is scalable and repeatable across the city.

24/7 Crisis and Intervention Support at Whyte

  • 24/7 intake and crisis stabilization
  • 8 transitional beds/16 emergency beds
  • Holistic assessment and entry into YAC-connected communities of care
New Resources & Services (Monday-Friday) at Whyte Ave

  • Onsite medical clinic
  • Onsite mental health clinic (YESS Wellness Integration Team and CASA [future])
  • Housing connections
  • Cultural and identity supports
  • Employment and education connections
  • Programming, arts, and recreation
  • Life and wellbeing skills development



While the YESS Community Youth Support Centre is still very new, the transition has been successful, and we are seeing the beginnings of positive impact on youth. For example:

  • serious incidents (requiring EPS or EMS) in July 2023 are 60% lower than in July 2022
  • the average stay for a young person at the centre is 3.5 days and the majority are not staying longer than
    13 days as we have been either able to get them back with family or into supportive or transitional housing

The impact of this holistic approach cannot be underestimated. By providing 24/7 crisis intervention and connected support, we can break down the barriers that currently prevent many youth from accessing help or staying on the journey to wellbeing. For many, this will save lives.

In addition, this strategy will also alleviate the pressure on our emergency departments and police services and, in time, reduce chronic adult homelessness


“I would be dead if it wasn’t for YESS. This is so serious, and it is not a joke. 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… 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.”
– Tom


Future Vision: 24/7 Crisis Intervention Centres in Communities Across Edmonton

The YESS model for 24/7 crisis intervention components and coordinated intake into the Youth Agency Collaboration can be added to any youth resource centre or mental health hub. Ideally, these service components would be added to the new Kickstand Integrated Youth Service Hubs planned for Alberta, and YESS has been working alongside Kickstand, CASA, and YAC for the past year to plan and build rationale for this approach.

This approach would address key aspects of the many challenges (those we can affect) that youth in crisis face: small shelters, access to necessary supports, consistent trauma-informed care, coordination among each onsite service provider, familiarity (trust), support (not judgemental or stigmatized), and holistic, accessible care. Most importantly, it will provide the 24/7 crisis intervention and support that is so needed.

This strategy could make a profound impact on youth wellbeing across Alberta and set the province as the best practice region for youth wellbeing. Because it is a model that can be consistently repurposed, it can easily be expanded adopted in other cities, provinces/territories, and countries. For example, there are integrated youth service (IYS) hubs across Canada that could have 24/7 crisis and stabilization components added.


Read the full Case for Support here

Read more

Ensuring Youth Get the Help They Need, When They Need It

The Youth Agency Collaboration

YESS, in collaboration with 25+ youth serving agencies (and growing) across Edmonton in the Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC), are already working together to create a connected continuum of care that ensures youth get the help they need, when they need it.

This means safer spaces, trained help, holistic wellbeing support, and bridge transitional housing that are all accessible 24/7 and in the communities where youth live.



Created in 2019 to collaborate and share experiences, information, and ideas to improve outcomes for youth.

  • Work together to build a strategic, cost-effective, and integrated continuum of complex care for youth
  • Streamline and coordinate intake, holistic assessment, and evaluation using a shared data system
  • Eliminate the need to compete for funding and build stronger connections between partners


What We’ve Learned

Working together since its inception, YAC partners found common themes and needs across their organizations from the voices of youth and youth workers:

  • Youth need the right help at the right time
  • Youth have better results when they face fewer barriers to supports and services
  • Small, community supports for youth and families are best
  • Building 1:1 trusting relationships is key
  • We don’t need to be one, we just need to act as one
Edmonton’s Collaborative Youth Strategy

The Youth Agency Collaboration has developed the following strategy to ensure that we are strategically focusing on the holistic wellbeing of young people in a coordinated and connected way that allows each community agency to address the needs of the youth in their community while still acting as one continuum of care.

An Innovative Implementation: “Youth Community Support Centres”*

One of the priority YAC innovations is creating community-based 24/7 crisis intervention, intake, and holistic wellbeing assessment services that are co-located with resource hubs for youth across Edmonton.


*Naming is functional and utilitarian for communication and concept purposes and the “centre” does not need to be a completely new entity but could be the addition of the crisis intake component to existing youth resource centres or Integrated Youth Services Hubs

Read the full Case for Support here

Read more

YESS is Evolving to Better Address the Challenges of Youth in Crisis

Based in Edmonton, YESS helps young people ages 15-24 who are in crisis because of family or community breakdown, mental illness, traumatic experiences, and often all of the above.

We provide safe spaces for young people to get immediate 24/7 crisis help, sleep safely, and access the basic necessities for survival as well as build the tools and life skills they need for wellbeing and healthy adulthood.

We have evolved over our 40+ years of operation from an overnight emergency shelter to an expert in youth crisis intervention and support, as well as a collaborative partner in a community of youth care leveraging 25+ Edmonton youth agencies focused on youth wellbeing.

Our goal, first and foremost, is to ensure that young people have the help they need when they need it, and this means addressing a significant gap in the care system: 24/7 crisis support.


“I think that sometimes when I tell people that I stayed at YESS they feel sorry for me; although, I don’t look at my time there like that. To me I have a better life because I stayed at YESS. It wasn’t a “step-down” it was a stepping stone to me being able to create a better life. I had a team of people believing in me and cheering me on. I’m thankful for the experience.”



Who We Serve

  • Approximately 700–800 young people in crisis each year
    • 45% are Indigenous
    • 10% are newcomers
    • 35% identify as 2SLGBTQIA+
    • 75% do not have Children’s Services involvement
    • 25% of youth at YESS are supported with government funding
Our Current Services

For youth 15–21:
• 24/7 intake and crisis support

• 16 emergency beds
• 16 supportive transitional beds

For youth 15–24:
• Onsite medical professionals (3x a week)
• Onsite mental health professionals
• Meals, clothing, hygiene products, and facilities
• Internal supports and connections to external agencies for life skill development
• Programs and program connection (art, recreation, community, culture, nutrition, health)


Read the full Case for Support here

Read more

The Need for 24/7 Youth Crisis Intervention is Clear

Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) has seen a steady increase in suicide, overdose, psychosis, and complex mental health crisis since 2019.

The number of young people in mental health crisis showing up at the YESS 24/7 shelter has increased by 30%.


“…the highest number of social disorder calls occurred between 3:00PM and midnight, with mental health calls for service peaking between 2:00PM and 10:00PM. Social disorder calls peaked from Friday–Sundays.”

“Based on an analysis of dispatched calls to the front line, trends with social disorder and mental health calls for service were identified. A significant gap has been identified regarding the availability, based on timing, of most social agencies compared to when social disorder calls or mental health calls are received.”

Edmonton City Council. Analysis of the Delivery of Social Services Type by Edmonton Police Service: Responding to Social Disorder & Mental Health Calls for Service. November 16, 2020.


“Wait times for care in the ER, both from ER team members and mental health professionals, were seen as unacceptable to respondents. Caregivers were concerned about wait times when worried for their child’s safety, especially when their child had attempted suicide or was experiencing suicidal ideation. Participants noted a lack of mental health services offered during the evenings and weekends, and expressed frustration that an appropriate mental health provider was not always available for youth. Parents also stated that the long wait for getting support in the community is very frustrating and inhibits recovery.”

Suen, Victoria Ph.D. Helping Kids & Youth in Times of Emotional Crisis: Phase 1 Final Report. Addiction & Mental Health and Emergency Strategic Clinical Networks, 2018. p. 19.


Currently, in Edmonton, youth have very little access to 24/7 crisis intervention other than emergency departments and police services, neither which are equipped or intended to support youth in crisis. More and more young people are needing:

  • 24/7 crisis intervention, stabilization, and personal, individual support
  • safe places to sleep during the day or night
  • specialized and trauma-informed mental health and medical treatment services
  • an intentional continuum of aftercare to ensure their wellbeing

Almost all mental health supports and services for youth are available only during daytime hours and many are only available Monday to Friday. Currently, YESS is the only place in Edmonton that will intake youth in crisis 24/7 and provide a place to sleep during the day or night, and we can typically only support 16 youth at a time. Furthermore, while youth agencies work hard to support young people, youth often slip through the many jurisdictional gaps in the current system of care that divides services and funds based on a youth’s symptoms such as addiction, mental health, homelessness, criminal involvement, and disabilities, which only creates more barriers for youth and decreases the likelihood that they can or will seek help.

We have seen a significant increase in youth in crisis over the last two years and a decrease in the funding and support for the agencies who support these youth.


Read the full Case for Support here

Read more

All is a Gift: A Lifetime of Grace and Gratitude

“Each of my brothers and sisters lived very interesting lives.” As the youngest and the last of 11 Zdunich siblings, Hilda O’Neill cherishes countless beautiful memories of growing up in a large family. Most recently, great joy was to be found in the time set aside for care and visits with her remaining sister, Rosaleen, who was then in her twilight years. It was a regular practice that she now so greatly misses since Rosaleen’s passing.  

YESS is so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the long and blessed journey of a woman who touched the lives of so many in her lifetime: her family, her religious community and communities, and her many relatives and friends. “Rosaleen lived an extraordinary life! She was generous with her time in life and, in the end, with her money. I was so happy with the various charities that Rosaleen chose to leave a gift to in her will. They reflected causes dear to her heart. And being in education, Rosaleen was happy to help youth.”



Sister Rosaleen Zdunich was a woman of deep faith, prayer, compassion, and sensitivity. She lived a very happy, inspiring, rewarding life, strongly committed to her Roman Catholic tradition. Her work and ministries were faith directed with prayer, hope, joy, remarkable dedication, and passion. Work and friendships came to life with her outstanding creativity, organizational, and leadership skills. Members of the interfaith and the ecumenical communities often remarked on the passion that she had for her work.

Sister Rosaleen studied scripture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, received her Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan, Master’s in Psychological Counselling from Fordham University in New York, and graduate diploma in Religious Education through various universities across the USA. Her background was in education as a teacher, principal, and counsellor. Evidence of students’ appreciation was the contact maintained by many students over the years. Working full time in schools, she volunteered many hours beginning to build understanding among the interchurch and interfaith communities. She was the founder of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese Ecumenical office. She coordinated the annual Ecumenical Institute, the first city-wide prayer service for Christian Unity Week. Now both initiatives fly under the banner of Edmonton Council of Churches.

She was one of the founders of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre and the first coordinator. Sister Rosaleen laid the groundwork for interfaith and ecumenism in Edmonton and Alberta. She organized many activities to bring the Edmonton’s interfaith communities together in understanding and appreciation. One of these was the first Prayer Service for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which is still being observed. In 1986 she coordinated the first Jewish/Christian dialogue held at Beth Shalom Synagogue with the Rabbi and the Archbishop together leading a prayer service and the dialogue.

She also coordinated several dialogues such as the city’s first Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dialogue and as well as the first Hindu, Christian, Sikh, and Muslim dialogue. She also organized Edmonton’s Centennial celebration led by 14 faith leaders. As they were called forth according to their arrival year to Edmonton, the faith leaders walked down the grand staircase of City Hall. More than 500 people of all faiths celebrated at City Hall to mark the arrival of these religions to Edmonton. She organized many more such events too numerous to mention.

She leaves a legacy to the City of Edmonton of initiating many events to build bridges of peace, harmony, and acceptance within and among the Christian and interfaith communities. These events are still part of Edmonton’s fabric.

Her love for those less fortunate was evident in her many works of charity and kindness. One could find her on Christmas morning serving dinner in the inner city or at other times preparing food to take to the food bank.  

She was very involved in her Roman Catholic community and especially her parish community.

In 2012 she was invested into the Alberta Order of Excellence, received the City of Edmonton’s “Salute to Excellence Award” in 2005, and the Alberta Centennial medallion for her dedication to building bridges among the faiths in Edmonton. In 1992 she was recognized by the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal for outstanding leadership.


One of the numerous recognitions that Sister Rosaleen received in life was having a tree planted in Israel in her honour—a symbol of hope, love and life to last for generations. We at YESS are likewise profoundly grateful to Sister Rosaleen for the forethought of her inspirational legacy gift and for her faith in the youth as they heal and direct the powerful potential of their minds, talents, creativity, and determination to the future.

To learn more about making a legacy gift, please contact Eileen Papulkas by phone at 780.468.7070 x298 or by email at

Read more