The Importance of Indigenous History Month

Interview with Nicole Radke, YESS Team Lead

June is Indigenous History Month, and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day! Approximately half of the youth who access YESS are Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), and we know that access to culturally specific experiences either through YESS staff or through partner organizations can be an important asset on the journey towards healing and a positive community.


Tell us about yourself and your position at YESS!

My name is Nicole Radke I come from a background of Cree/German parents, and I am currently the Team Lead at the Armoury Resource Centre.


What particular principles or processes does YESS have to ensure that programs are a safe space for Indigenous youth who may be on a journey of healing that includes their culture, their family, their extended relations, etc.?

We have been building relationships with different Indigenous agencies so we can provide our Indigenous youth ample opportunities to learn about their culture. We offer supplies they would need to practice their culture and will go to different ceremonies with them. One in particular has been our Land Connection where we learn about Mother Earth and get to connect. Our programs are able to provide [cultural or spiritual] medicine for the youth when it is needed. The staff at YESS are open and listen to the youth so we can learn about their practices and teachings. We recognize not everyone has the same teachings. We exist in a non-judgemental environment and give space so they know that they can determine their own journey of healing, we simply walk with them, learn with them, learn from them, and support them.


Why is it important to create this kind of safety for youth? Both in YESS programs and in the wider community?

Representation is so important when it comes to creating a safe space for the youth. There has recently been significant awareness brought to the Indigenous community and the mistreatment that stemmed from colonization, which was hidden for years. To be allies we need to provide space that is safe for our youth and provide a space where they know they can learn about their culture, they can share their culture, and that they can do this without stigmatization. Healing comes from reconnection and balancing. YESS gives this space to the youth by listening to their voices and hearing about what practices they would like to see in our agency. We have seen youth reconnect with culture because they were in a safe space, and we have seen them transition into independence and are leading the most beautiful lives filled with culture and stability.


Indigenous History Month is about activism, but it is also a celebration! What is the impact of youth having opportunities to celebrate themselves and share in the joys and practices of their culture?

We get to see their beautiful spirits. There is nothing that will give you more chills than when a youth is excited to speak about their culture and the exciting things they have done to celebrate it, whether it be attending pow wows and competing, beading, attending sweat lodges, going to round dances, or simply sharing stories about their ancestors. When we give them this space it gives them a chance to know that they are heard, and we care. I also love learning their native tongue from them. By giving them the opportunity to celebrate themselves we are making sure that they know they are seen, and we hear them.


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

They are some of the most incredible humans you could ever encounter. They are selfless, compassionate, caring, emotionally intelligent, and kind. These youth would give the shirt off their own back for someone else who was more in need. I would describe the youth at YESS as “bears”: they are protectors and always look out for those they care about. Most of these youth have been dealt difficult hands, but they have the skill set to manage these hands and they often are able to succeed while at the same time being the most caring human beings. The youth who access our services are some of the most resourceful humans you could ever come across. I would encourage people to just have a conversation with them and you would see how incredible they are.

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June Message from Margo

Hello everyone, and happy June!


As June celebrates Pride month and also Indigenous History Month, with National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, this is a particularly special time at YESS. Though safety and wellness and YESS means that we honour gender expression, sexuality, culture, spirituality, and personal exploration all year round, Pride and Indigenous History Month create a community-wide opportunity for youth to live these aspects of their lives out loud. In this month’s issue, you will hear about the practices in our programs that create safe, non-judgemental for all youth, all year round. Our team members in YESS Programs, Nicole Radke and Ash Dafoe, talk specifically about the importance and impact of creating safe spaces for youth who are Indigenous and youth who identify as 2SLGBTQ+. We also put our community spotlight on the Pride Centre of Edmonton and interview Executive Director Esjay Lafayette about their new strategic plan to build and provide safe spaces.

We hope you have a wonderful Pride, Indigenous History Month, and first day of summer!


YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Thank You to Vans!

Our friends at Vans are monthly donors to YESS by providing footwear and clothing for youth. Last month, Vans and the Vans Community Fund went above and beyond and donated $16,178.40 to YESS.

This donation will remain within our community, supporting those who need it most.


Tell us why you choose to support YESS?

We support YESS because we see it as a positive institution delivering real change in the lives of youth experiencing homelessness in our community.


How does Vans give back to the 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, Vans 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!


Why is it important for Van’s to support the community?

The community is who supports us, so we need to do the same for them!

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Community Spotlight: Edmonton Public Library

Tell us about yourself and your position at EPL!

My name is Cassidy Munro, and I am the Community Librarian at the Strathcona Branch of the Edmonton Public Library! I’ve been a Community Librarian with EPL for almost 7 years now. As a Community Librarian, my role is to connect with the community and find out more about their needs and the barriers they face and work with them to see how the library can support them. It also includes working closely with community partners like YESS.

I love working at the library because we do offer so much to so many different people. Truly everyone can and does use the library, and I love helping make that possible. One of my favourite parts of my job is surprising someone with a service or resource they didn’t know we could offer. I also get to come out into the community and connect with people where they’re at—like YESS youth.


How do EPL and YESS collaborate to create safety and community for people who need it most?

EPL and YESS have collaborated in a number of ways over the years. Some of this work has been looking at policies and procedures and sharing that research widely with the youth-serving community so that youth can feel welcome and included everywhere they may go. It has also looked like offering programming both at YESS locations and in the library. Sometimes programming meets specific needs, and sometimes it’s a fun way to explore a library resource while allowing EPL staff to connect with and build relationships with those who YESS serves. Button making and, more recently, robotics have been really popular. By building these relationships where young people already feel safe and have community, we are able to support them better with safety and community when they do come to the library to use a computer, borrow something, or just hang out. [possible blockquote] I’ve had young people tell me that they never would have felt comfortable coming to the library and asking for help from EPL staff if we hadn’t met previously at YESS’ Armoury Resource Centre.


What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about people who access resources like YESS?

Asking for help is HARD. Even though it is absolutely not a weakness to need help, asking for it can feel so vulnerable. I wish people could see the true strength of people who access resources like YESS because they are doing hard things every day just by being open to support and help.

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Volunteer Spotlight: University of Alberta Residence Services

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

My name is Valerie and I’m currently acting as the Diversity and Inclusion Intern for the University of Alberta’s Residence Services for the 2022/2023 year. I reached out to YESS in August 2022 to see if there was any interest in participating in our Day of Service event, an afternoon where students living in residence at the University of Alberta could choose amongst different community organizations to participate in a drop-in group volunteer session with for the afternoon. We were able to send a group to volunteer at the Armoury Resource Centre on August 26, 2022. In addition to that, another group of students were able to attend a virtual presentation on February 21, 2023, as part of our Alternative Reading Week program, a 4-day long service-learning program that aims to engage students living in residence in different social issues that affect the Edmonton community.


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

The main reason YESS came to mind when I was narrowing down a list of community organizations to contact for volunteer opportunities to promote to students living in residence was due to friends having recounted their positive experiences with YESS, be it in a volunteer capacity or through club involvement like the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign. While I have not had the opportunity to volunteer with YESS myself, having needed to stay behind in the office to coordinate the various drop-in group volunteer sessions during Day of Service, and having been away from the office during Alternative Reading Week, I am fortunate to be able to provide wonderful opportunities like these to the students living in residence.


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

I wish the community knew that there is more than meets the eye for YESS youth. YESS youth are humans just like you and me, who are currently experiencing difficult circumstances. Yet, they are so very strong, brave, hopeful, and resilient. It takes tremendous courage to face a world so determined to set barriers in front of them, and yet grow, thrive, and flourish in spite of that, if given the proper support, resources, and compassion.

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Thanks to The Orange Door Project!

In December 2022, The Home Depot Canada Foundation hosted their annual Orange Door Project holiday campaign in support of youth-focused charities across the country! The Home Depot Canada Foundation is committed to preventing and ending youth homelessness. Together with community partners across the country, they work to break cycles of inequity and enable at-risk youth facing homelessness achieve positive development outcomes and realize their full potential.

In the Edmonton area, eight The Home Depot stores selected YESS as their charity of choice for their Orange Door Project holiday campaign. In total YESS will be granted $51,810.40 as a result of the successful campaign!

We are so grateful to these local stores for their initiative to support youth in their community! Thank you to:

Home Depot Clareview 

Home Depot Westend 

Home Depot South Common 

Home Depot St. Albert 

Home Depot Edmonton Strathcona 

Home Depot Skyview 

Home Depot Edmonton (Westmount) 

Home Depot Whitemud 

Home Depot Edmonton Windermere

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Donor Spotlight: Interview with Bill Pechtel

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I was born and have lived my entire life in Edmonton. We had a family business on the Southside (99 St. and 82 Avenue) where I worked for several years until we moved our business downtown in 1980 to 112 St. and Jasper Avenue. My whole career has been focused on the travel industry so I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see much of the world. Traveling is a great educator and certainly puts into perspective just how lucky we are in Canada in comparison to many other countries. Yes, our weather could be better but aside from that I’ve always found Edmonton to be a great place to raise a family (I’m married and have one son who is a teacher, and we have two granddaughters). My wife and I sold our company (Globetrotter Travel Ltd.) back in 2014 but remain very active in the travel industry as IC’s (independent contractors) for the firm that purchased us – Vision Travel. Vision is a privately held agency with some 50 offices across Canada with annual sales approaching $1 billion. It’s one of Canada’s largest agencies and their buying power has given us terrific opportunities to provide many extra amenities to our clients which in turn has allowed us to grow our business to the point that my wife Sue is amongst the top producers for the company in Canada.


What inspired you to support youth in our community?

My father Carlos (since deceased) was a Member of the Rotary Club of Edmonton South for many years. The Club used to meet first at the Park Hotel on Calgary Trail and 80th Avenue (now I’m dating myself!) and after the hotel burned down we moved for many years to the Renford Inn, which is now the Varscona Hotel. That is where I eventually joined Rotary back in 1978 at the age of 20. For over 11 years I was the youngest member of the Club. I had a great opportunity to meet many of the movers and shakers of business who had major companies on the South Side and I received a lot of guidance and inspiration from these individuals. I got to see that while they were very successful, they also knew that giving back to the community was important and that was a valuable lesson for me as a young man starting out in business myself. It inspired me to join the Board of the Club and I was given the portfolio of Community Service. It was at that time that our Club received a letter requesting funding from a brand new organization call YESS (Youth Emergency Shelter Society back then) and I was really taken with the concept that they were looking to implement. Being from a loving and stable background, I couldn’t directly relate to what many young people were going through but knew that it was important to fill the gap that existed for young people in need. YESS required a commercial dishwasher in order to get their occupancy license (a $3,500.00 request, so quite a bit of money at that time). I pushed hard for the request to be fulfilled and thankfully I had the support of my fellow board members and that gave YESS the final item they needed in order to open their doors and they still serve the community from that very same location all these years later. I myself have been a Member of Edmonton South for 45 years.


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

Your [recent] presentation [to the Rotary Club] reminded me of all the extra work that YESS now does for youth in the community and I truly believe that most Edmontonians don’t fully realize the scope of what great work you really do for youth in our community.   

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Community Spotlight: Bissell Centre

Tell us about yourself and your position at Bissell!

Hi! I’m Nola Visser, the Manager of Permanent Supportive Housing with Bissell Centre. I have been with Bissell for about a year and a half and in that time have had the opportunity to work with the team at Hope Terrace. Hope Terrace is supportive housing for adults who have been diagnosed with FASD and have experienced houselessness. At Hope Terrace, each resident has their own suite and we have staff on site 24/7 to provide different supports for everyone who lives there. Recently, we have moved into the King Edward Park neighborhood. Before moving here, we were located near the Stadium downtown. My work focuses on working with the team to provide wholistic, wrap around supports for those living in the building and engaging with the community of King Edward Park. I am passionate about community engagement and am looking forward to continuing to build strong partnerships with the King Edward Park Community. Many of my favorite moments so far have been seeing the positive and healthy impact supportive housing has on the residents who live in our building.


How does Bissell provide safe spaces to meet your clients where they’re at?

At Hope Terrace and Bissell at large we cultivate a culture of trust and dignity. We have cultivated this culture by building meaningful relationships with the residents which allows them to feel safe and free to be themselves. In our building we have created a few different safe spaces that help us meet our residents where they are at. In our common area, we have created a welcoming space where residents can come and share a meal together, watch TV, play X-Box, color or simply just hang out with staff. Hope Terrace also has a Snoezelen Room. This room is a multi-sensory room that helps people regulate when they are feeling scared, angry, sad, happy or just need a moment to recalibrate. Many of our residents use this space to meet with staff to talk through difficulties or challenges that come up for them throughout the day. We also work towards ensuring residents feel that their home is safe. This is done through wellness checks and meeting with residents in their home to discuss supports they need or any goals they are looking for us to support them in.


How do Bissell and YESS collaborate to create a community for people who need it most?

YESS and Bissell have begun collaborating by striving to be good neighbors in our communities. Recently, we have begun doing community safety walks. This is an amazing way for our organizations to work together to build a safe and vibrant community for people who are accessing our services. Twice a day, YESS and Bissell, walk through both neighborhoods and pick up any garbage they see. During these walks, we also support any community member who may be looking for support or a safe place to go. We also meet regularly together with multiple different neighborhood groups to advocate and work together so that the people accessing our services feel safe and welcomed, not only in our buildings and programs but in the communities, they live in.


What is one thing you wish the wider community knew about people who access resources like Bissell?

 I wish the wider community knew how incredibly innovative, passionate and joyful our residents are. They all bring something unique and special to the table and are looking for different ways to engage in activities and communities using their own strengths.

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The Importance of Connection at YESS

Tell us about yourself and your position at YESS!

Hi! My name is Clara and I am a full-time youth worker at the Nexus shelter at YESS. I work to meet youth where they are at and support them in their goals and needs. 

Our mission is to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. How is supporting youth to build positive connections part of the that mission?

By supporting our youth in making positive connections, we provide them with the resources and supports they need to achieve their goals. We at Nexus provide the youth with shelter, food, and clothing so they don’t have to worry about their basic needs while they are navigating their way out of houselessness. We support our youth, whatever their goals may be, whether it be family reunification, finding independent housing, or supportive housing. We collaborate with many great resources in the community to provide the support our youth need and help connect them with these positive supports to empower them in their journeys. 

How does YESS staff build positive connections with youth? Why is it important that our staff team represent the diversity of the community we serve?

At Nexus, we build positive connections with our youth through sharing meals together, colouring, or listening to music together. We really try to assess what our youth need and provide that for them. For example, if a youth needs some time alone to regulate their emotions, we can provide them with some space and offer them craft supplies or colouring books. We also build connections with our youth through getting to know their stories and supporting them. At times, it can be difficult to relate to what our youth are going through, but we use empathy and trauma-informed care to help them. By having a team that represents the diversity of the community we serve, we are able to better connect with our youth and understand the challenges and barriers they face. 

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

One thing I wish the community knew about our youth at Nexus is how resilient they are. I often see the youth meet many barriers and challenges, yet they stay positive and seek other ways to achieve what they want. They often get turned away from opportunities, but they don’t let that bring them down—they come back and ask for more referrals and resources that can help them in their journey out of houselessness. Working with these youth has taught me so much and I am so excited for what they will achieve!

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Spotlight on the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council

February is Black History Month! Here at YESS, we support a community of youth as diverse as the wider community. We have collaborated with the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC) in previous programs and continue to engage with their work.

ACCEC is a Black-led, Black-founded registered NGO that promotes and strengthens opportunities for African, Caribbean, Black, and Racialized Communities. The African Canadian Civic Engagement Council’s (ACCEC) mandate is to protect and promote all people of African descent’s dignity and human rights while celebrating our people’s significant contributions to society and worldwide.

ACCEC is based in Edmonton, but works nationally, and is an innovative program in the Alberta landscape.

We worked with ACCEC within our Cohort Transitional Residence Pilot Project in 2021-2022. This pilot program cam specifically from the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic that made it difficult for youth to build positive connections. The program used “family-like” cohorts of 3-5 youth to bolster safe and meaningful peer interactions that created “bubbles” that meant youth were safe to not wear masks and to minimize social distancing within their cohorts in the program.

This highly autonomous program saw changes in the trajectory of many youth who had previously been termed “difficult to house” or who had been trapped in homelessness by a myriad of barriers. This “Bridge Housing” style program had the same core purpose of giving individuals experiencing homelessness a safer space to exist in, given the health risks associated with crowded shelters during a global pandemic. The primary objective of Bridge Housing programs is to provide a safe place to live while waiting for a permanent housing to come through, with a target goal of 6-month maximum stay. We used this base and broadened our approach to include the social, emotional, and psychological development impacts that the pandemic was having on youth in particular, as the work that all youth do in their adolescence in these areas was being stunted by isolation and missed opportunities.

Around this same time, ACCEC was developing their own stabilization program. The African, Caribbean & Black Stabilization Program (ACB Program) was initially funded by the province and started out as a COVID response model that recognized the importance of belonging, connection, promoting meaningful relationships, and working with youth families and natural supports.

This program found a home with its own cohort of four beds at the Cohort Transitional Residence Pilot Project. Focused on building connections, healing from trauma, and empowering youth to achieve their goals, this collaboration between ACCEC and YESS was a natural fit. ACCEC’s Afrocentric model to create a therapeutic environment is based on the African traditions of sanofka (the belief that people must return to their roots to move forward, from the Akan language in  Ghana) and ubuntu (“I am because you are,” a philosophy from South Africa).

“It’s rooted in relationship. It’s rooted in community. It’s rooted in healing. It’s rooted in accountability — so that’s what helps a lot of these youth heal,” said Dunia Nur, president of ACCEC, in an interview with CBC in 2021.

By collaborating, both ACCEC and YESS were able to benefit from a specific Afrocentric perspective and the diverse staff that were available to youth.

“You start to see this amazing community collaboration of staff and youth from so many different walks of life being like, ‘Hey, we can be safe and vulnerable here,’” Alice Mwemera, who was then the supervisor of the Cohort Program and is now involved in program research and development at YESS, told CBC in an interview. “So instead, I can get to know you as a person and you can get to know me. How cool is that?”



Learn more about the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council on their website at

Read the CBC article “’Rooted in healing’: New housing facility gives marginalized Black youth a place to rebuild” by Andrea Huncar here

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