May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia! This message comes from YESS Youth Worker, Ian Brown:
“YESS demonstrates that our programs are safer spaces by having informed and confident staff who are able to address homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia firmly and in real time. When leaders in the space don’t allow violent and hurtful things to be said to, or about, 2SLGBTQ+ people, we are letting everyone know that they are valued and can exist safely in the space. Symbols of support such as pride flags, ‘safe space’ signs, and introducing pronouns in our daily practice are important, but the most proactive way to create a safer space is setting an explicit boundary against violent, hateful, and hurtful language and actions against 2SLGBTQ+ people, while teaching and modelling accountability for the impact of that behavior.”
In the fall of 2020, youth accessing the Armoury Resource Centre during the day started to express interest for a quiet, sacred place where they could specifically begin to explore their spirituality, reconnect with their religion, and have a space to be able to smudge and pray. Programming Coordinator Shantell Martineau was there to collaborate with various aspects of YESS programs to meet that need.
“Youth wanted to learn how to meditate or practice box breathing. When I met with clients to go over cultural connection pieces or medicines and how to use smudging, that was when I knew we needed a space that could be more of a sacred exploration room where one can have privacy,” says Shantell. Part of Shantell’s work with youth is providing cultural connections. Shantell an Indigenous Plains Cree Woman from Frog Lake First Nation, Treaty 6 Territory.
In an unused room at the Armoury Resource Centre, the new Sacred Space was built. There room is inclusive of all religions and spiritualities, with resources for learning, prayer, meditation, ceremony, and culture. When Shantell first introduces youth to the space she explains that there’s no right or wrong way to connect with the space or the resources and encourages them to create a personal space there that meets their needs.
All youth have access to traditional medicines as a resource at YESS. At any time, regardless of nationality, if a youth would like support from medicines, they would meet with Shantell or ask a resource worker. Shantell works with them on what medicines they are looking for and how it is intended to be used.
“That room is where I’ll take youth if they are interested in a medicine bundle or a smudge ceremony pack. I’ll put it together, and then we’ll meet in that space and now that’s where I teach them the protocols of working with medicine and the intentions, and the cultural sacredness of that,” says Shantell. “So that was really the intention of that space, to give them a place that’s their own. Youth have found it feeling so inviting and peaceful and calming, which is what we wanted the space to be.”
The hope is that this space can also function for other programs, such as Wellness Integration. If a youth can find safety and empowerment in the Sacred Space, then that might become a good location for them to access therapy or other resources. The space has also proven to be a positive retreat for staff on their breaks, for their own quiet time or meditation.
“It’s really open to the staff and the youth because we’re all in this together. We’re all surviving a pandemic together and we all need spiritual healing and we need a sacred space,” says Shantell. “As staff, we have to mirror what we want. So if we want the youth to really start a healing journey, are we mirroring that? Are we using that type of language that, ‘Hey, I’m also struggling, and I tried meditation and it helped me.’”
Shantell has even more plans for the space in a post-pandemic world. “The Sacred Space would really be the room that I would invite Elders or Knowledge Keepers to come and visit and connect with us in that space, just because of its intentions and the healing that happens in that room. This space could be really anything that you need it to be. That’s what’s beautiful about it.”
Another driving force of creating the Sacred Space has been collaboration with D’orjay, The Singing Shaman. D’orjay first approached YESS about volunteer opportunities in the fall of 2019, seeking something she could do to help or support our youth. Since then, Shaman D’orjay has been offering healing sessions twice a month. The delivery of these resources has changed in the pandemic, but youth can still meet with her virtually. Through working with Shaman D’orjay, youth have found a foundation to feel empowered and how to practice that in their lives.
“It was from that experience that we saw the need to continue and say yes, this is a nice option for some of our youth who maybe don’t want to engage in therapy in the traditional sense, but who want to start a healing journey,” says Shantell.
Access to different modes of healing has also had a cultural impact on youth.
“Some of our Indigenous youth, they come out of sessions with Shaman D’orjay feeling, like, ‘Wow! I remember being taught this, that I can access energy. I remember being taught this,’” says Shantell. “That intergenerational piece of healing comes through and then I get to meet with them, and mirror their feeling of how quickly my teachings came back to me that I had as a child, and how my spirit felt ready to remember again.
“It’s really helped some of our youth reconnect with their culture, reconnect with the teachings that maybe Kokum passed on to them. They’ve had that pain around teaching that they didn’t want to connect to again. I totally get that. I’ve connected with some youth and I share that I feel that exact same way, that when you experience a loss of a huge cultural strength in the family, that the family does tend to give up those teachings, they give them up, they put them down for a little bit, just because the pain is too great to think about that, you know, to access the teaching. Working with Shaman D’orjay has really given some of our Indigenous youth the foundation to reach out to their culture.”
From meeting the current needs of youth on their individual journeys and in the pandemic, to providing an additional safe space that can be used for current and future programs, the new Sacred Space at the Armoury Resource Centre has provided a unique retreat that embodies what it means to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing.
“What I’m trying to teach youth is that their sacredness is in them, and sometimes we need a quiet space to explore that. I’m really trying to empower them to look within, for their spiritual guidance, whatever that may be.”
Sleep is one of the most important parts of wellness, especially for youth. We talked to Marcia East, Trauma Practitioner, and Camiel Friend, Nexus Program Supervisor, about the ways that YESS provides safe spaces and resources that meet this important need for sleep.
Why is sleep so important for youth who access YESS?
Marcia: Sleep helps to fuel our brain and our body. Youth need more sleep because their bodies and minds are growing quickly. Scientific research shows that many of our youth do not get enough sleep. To be at our best, it is recommended that we get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every day.
In deep REM sleep, our serotonin levels are renewed, which protects us against depression, and our cells have the opportunity to repair themselves. Sleep is like giving our body fuel. Sleep allows us to integrate short term memory into long term memory, aiding in learning and synaptic strengthening, making information more salient in the brain.
How do YESS programs create healthy sleeping environments?
Camiel: The Nexus Overnight Shelter offers sleep support in a few different ways. The most obvious way is the beds, clean bedding, and availability of safe space to sleep! Some youth have different barriers to sleep. This can be trauma, mental health, addictions, insomnia—a variety of reasons that it may be a struggle. We accommodate each individual’s needs on an individual basis. We have space for youth to self-regulate as well as trained youth workers there overnight to support as needed. We manage the program with safety always the main objective. It is important to offer a safe space for youth to sleep for many reasons. Sleep is something our bodies need in order to survive. Offering a safe space through the nighttime hours is imperative to youth in high-risk lifestyles. This is the most vulnerable time in someone’s day and can sometimes be the most difficult. Shelter at nighttime means a safe night.
Marcia: We only drift into deep, restorative sleep when we are feeling safe. When we are feeling unsafe our brain causes us to remain semi-alert for self-protection. Over a period of time, this can lead to psychological problems, such as distortion of reality. Unfortunately, many individuals, including youth, experience deprivation of sleep.
It is important that we provide the kind of environment for youth which facilitates deep sleep, as it regenerates the whole body, allowing us to operate at our best capacity.
April’s Newsletter theme is rest. While it seems obvious—that we all need rest—it is often the last thing we take for ourselves. Leaders, with huge responsibilities and priorities… need rest and a pause to recharge. Children and youth, who are growing their bodies and brains and learning how to relate to themselves and others… need rest. Rest is time for regrowth, rebuilding, and regeneration—A perfect focus for April as we wait so anxiously for our glorious Summer. In this issue, we hear from YESS Youth Workers about the importance of sleep and our new Sacred Space at the Armoury Resource Centre. We highlight our United Way Community Partners and give you a little glimpse into our staff celebration. Finally we shine our donor spotlight this month on our friend Louise Davis and we say thank you to our friends at Ron Hodgson.
The team from Dutch Delicious started volunteering with us in the summer 2019. About once a month they would lend their hands to helping in the kitchen or doing some much-needed outdoor work at our buildings. For their annual “For the Love of Opa” event in 2019, Dutch Delicious selected YESS as their charity of choice, donating 50% of the event day’s sales which came to over $3000.
When the pandemic interrupted their volunteering schedule, the Dutch Delicious team was still eager to help with outdoor work in the summer, following all necessary health protocols.
“I am just so proud of all the work and service to our community that Siebe and his staff have done for YESS,” says our Volunteer Programs Officer. “I feel even though they are a small group they really achieved so much and always exceeded my expectations, so willing to help.”
Tell us about your organization and how you came to volunteer at YESS.
My first interaction with YESS was at the Ice on Whyte festival. Beside the booth we had as bakery was a coffee stand that was run by volunteers of YESS. A kind older gentleman helped to serve coffee and we chatted regularly, and he even ended up coming to the bakery as a regular customer. During this time we were working on the branding of our company and chose the line “Nourishing Community.” We thought it fitting to have this line connected to our company and the tasks we perform on a daily basis. One leader at the bakery said rightly one day: “Why don’t we really show our true colors and actually go out into the community to help out?” It was then that we met up with our friend and asked for contact details from YESS.
Why did you choose to volunteer at YESS and how do you see your impact as a volunteer?
Although we started because of our connection through a customer, we are blessed to make a difference for YESS as an organization as a whole. Originally we signed up with the kitchen to be helpful in the food area, since we do food as well. Learning that our tasks are not about us but ultimately about the youth you serve, we decided to be blessed as long as we could do anything to minimize the wish list of the organization as a whole. So painting railings, pulling weeds, shoveling snow all helps to have your staff take better care of the youth. In this way we see the youth better served because we could take care of the little things for you.
What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?
We as a company really wish that people knew more about the trauma of these youth. With that we can see how much good the organization does as a whole to heal, nourish, and prevent the youth from pain points and danger.
Celebrations are an important part of our lives. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events with our friends and families. National Philanthropy Day is celebrated on November 15 each year by YESS and dozens of other agencies in Edmonton, across Canada, and even around the world. This year we have nominated three of our donors for special recognition on National Philanthropy Day. They joined us at the Shaw Convention Centre where the Association of Fundraising Professionals hosted a feast and a fete for hundreds of donors from Edmonton organizations. Please join us in thanking our nominees for their extensive and expansive support of homeless youth in our community.
Simons has become deeply invested in taking action through YESS’ Interactive Art program and has made a powerful impact in our youth’s lives. Thanks to our long-term partnership with Simons, the Interactive Art Program was developed and continues to mentor and build the talents of our youth. When they find an art form they are passionate about they are able to use it as a tool to express themselves, learn new things, and set new goals—all skills that can change their lives. Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations at Simons West Edmonton Mall, tells us, “We feel very strongly that reaching out at this level is a small step in advancing the confidence of youth. It allows them to express feelings through their work that they might not be able to verbalize with others. Art is a voice that can never be silenced. Art is a voice that needs to be heard.”
For National Philanthropy Day 2020 we nominated The REALTORS® Community Foundation, Ledcor Group, Collin and Janel Bruce, No Room in the Inn, and Hillcrest Junior High to recognize their incredible support of YESS!
The REALTORS® Community Foundation
For 26 years, The REALTORS® Community Foundation has both inspired and encouraged Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) in its delivery of supports and programs for our youth. The team began in 1994 with their Edmonton Bike Nights and Ride for Kids community fundraisers, sponsorship of our annual Golf Classic. We have been the beneficiaries of their time and unique skills with volunteering. They’ve given the gift of enhanced safety to our kids with their investment in the security system upgrades at our Armoury Resource Centre (ARC), pride of home with the upkeep and renovations of our buildings, caring comfort with new furniture within our programs. And, their most recent investment in our Art Therapy Program will help to facilitate connection, self-expression and healing for our youth. The REALTORS® Community Foundation continues to weave a lasting, sustainable legacy within our organization, the lives of our youth, and the community at large. YESS is so grateful for the support of the REALTORS® team for helping to shape our future and strengthen the critical supports for our youth as they they address they address life-changing trauma and homelessness.
“The REALTORS® Community Foundation has proudly supported YESS since 1989 and in 26 of the last 31 years. Their tremendous compassion for youth facing homelessness in the Edmonton Area is evident in their programs and facilities. By meeting youth where they’re at and offering diverse programs, youth of many backgrounds and interests are able to connect to positive paths forward, empowering them to achieve their goals and contribute to a strong, vibrant future for our community. The Foundation has committed to a three-year pledge to YESS in support of their continued efforts to support youth in our city which will bring total giving to the organization to over $300,000 upon fulfillment. REALTORS® care about the communities in which they live and work; through the Foundation they invest in charities, such as YESS, who are doing the important work so needed to create opportunities for all community members to thrive.”
Throughout the course of the pandemic, it has been hugely important to us that there be minimal interruption to YESS programs. Not just shelter and food access, but also those programs that create spaces where youth can heal from trauma, such as our Interactive Art Program. We talked to Hollis Hunter, Artistic Programming Facilitator, about the impact this program has on youth on their journeys towards healing.
Tell us about yourself and your position as the Artistic Programming Facilitator at YESS.
Hello! My name is Hollis Hunter. I graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spring 2020. My personal practice and research revolve around identity politics: I navigate the challenging and rewarding question of how to visually represent 2SLGBTQ+ identities, communities, bodies, and experiences. As the Artistic Programming Facilitator at YESS, I engage with our youth in daily creative activities and work behind-the-scenes to connect youth artists to broader arts opportunities.
Tell us about the objectives of the art program.
The primary goal of the art program is to be youth-led. I spend most of my time working through “How do I best meet youth requests?” and “How do I approach youth or make myself approachable so that they can make requests?” This is always fun because one youth starting a project always entices more to join. What the youth want to gain from the art program is what it needs to be providing. Every secondary goal, such as a consistent programming schedule, or regularly restocked supplies, is centered around this. You cannot be successful in helping youth without them participating or having their wants and needs met by the program.
Hot Dog Octopus sculpture
What is it about art that makes it a powerful medium for healing?
Art is a tool for building connections. Engaging in arts activities goes beyond “making things” to learning new skills, building relationships, communicating ideas and emotions, and holding mind-body connection. Access to art programming allows youth a new path to connect with support staff, each other, and broader communities and opportunities. The art program provides youth with a medium to cope with difficult life circumstances, earn supplemental income, create archival objects, and participate in meaningful large-scale collaborative projects.
I have kids participate that are currently high, in psychosis, or emotionally coping with crises in their life. They choose to sit down and funnel their energy into a physical action like writing or colouring, and often end up calm and controlled in their ongoing interactions. I get to write contact notes about dreams, passions, relationships, and talents onto youth files full of contact notes listing conflict, abuse, substance use, and authorities; this program gives youth the space to safely be themselves.
What have been any remarkable projects/experiences you’ve had so far in the program?
I am constantly astounded by our youth. Every day I get to learn about their character, experiences, and what they can do. Every time I take out a new medium or project, there are youth that I would never have expected to be interested in art, and the things they make are amazing. My favorite thing is when youth make things that are silly and less serious or focus on playing with materials and trying new things. One youth LOVED rock painting because they got to use the natural shape of the rocks to help decide what they wanted to turn them into. Another youth was getting help to patch their jeans, and I brought out sewing machines so that we could dive deeper into their fashion interests. Sewing art programming happened for nearly a month straight because a lot of youth were really into hand-sewing, machine sewing, and embroidering jeans, hats, bags, and cotton face masks. There is so much value in learning textile and sewing skills, because it helps us protect, embellish, and cherish our clothes.
Abstract work in progress
What is one thing you wish the community knew about YESS youth?
This question puzzled me at first because “community” is a broad term with lots of overlap. Youth who access YESS are part of countless broader social, spiritual, recreational, and school communities. No matter what difficult life circumstances our youth are facing, they bring their unique strengths and qualities with them. It is so important to recognize that we are all going through hardships, and that the best way to heal and grow is to make room for collective care. The more that I can show up and show care for our youth, the more they can show up for themselves and others. This is how we make sure that those of us who are surviving and hurting day-to-day have space to be safe, heal, and grow.
The Interactive Art Program is proudly sponsored by Simons, who have interwoven the effect, power, and vision of art within their own culture since 1840. The Simons family share a deeply held love and affinity for the arts, and feel strongly about helping talented young people access the possibilities to be found while exploring multiple disciplines.
“In these exceptional times it is our hope that the Interactive Arts Program continues to provide youth with an opportunity to engage their creativity, continue their path to hope and healing and celebrate their strength and courage through the visual arts,” says Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations for Simons WEM.
In 2020, The REALTORS® Community Foundation joined Simons as a funder of the Interactive Art Program. Their support empowered us to take the artistic programming facilitator position from part-time to full-time.
“The REALTORS® Community Foundation has proudly supported YESS since 1989 and in 26 of the last 31 years. Their tremendous compassion for youth facing homelessness in the Edmonton Area is evident in their programs and facilities. By meeting youth where they’re at and offering diverse programs, youth of many backgrounds and interests are able to connect to positive paths forward, empowering them to achieve their goals and contribute to a strong, vibrant future for our community.”
Being able to work with my community – with transgender and nonbinary youth – is an honour for me. Transgender and nonbinary youth so often hear their identities and existence denied and invalidated, and are hurt for their identities in many ways. I see transgender and nonbinary youth, and their existence and identities are real and valid. We work with a large population of transgender and nonbinary youth, because there is a large population of displaced and homeless transgender and nonbinary youth; that is just the reality of our society at this time – a reality I am not a fan of. I work hard to try and change that reality. Sometimes it is in small ways, in correcting a co-worker on a youth’s pronouns, and helping them learn. Sometimes it is fighting for larger systemic change. Transgender Day of Visibility is both about celebrating transgender and nonbinary people and about recognizing that there is still work to be done to make the world a safe place for us to exist. I think that trying to do good is an important first step on a long but very rewarding journey. A very happy Transgender Day of Awareness to all transgender and nonbinary people, no matter where they are in their journey, no matter their personal identity, no matter what anyone else says. You are real, you are valid, and you are loved.
Ian Brown Relief Worker Youth Empowerment and Support Services
I love March. For me, it is the milestone of hope and the light at the end of a long winter. It brings singing birds, more daylight, and new fresh buds. This March our newsletter theme is Art and the wonderful things art does to us and for us. For me, art brings focus and peace. When we focus intently on something, our brains build strong connectivity between areas and pathways. Art often engages both hemispheres of the brain, which also helps bring our emotional memories to a more rational perspective. Focusing on art can help us to regulate our bodies and our breathing and the vibration of art, and through visual experiences of colour and light, can bring healing and transcendence. Art can be both intimately personal as well as public and relational and can help us understand ourselves and understand others. It can help us share our past and dream for the future. This month, we feature our own Interactive Art Program and Artistic Programming Facilitator, Hollis Hunter, as well as our incredible friends at iHuman Youth Society, who focus their entire organization on building self-esteem through the Arts. We also shine a much-deserved spotlight on our incredible funding partners at the Home Depot Orange Door Project. And finally, we have an interview with our wonderful Executive Assistant and Manager of Administration, Karen Reed, and her experience in establishing a bequest for YESS in her will. I hope this Spring you can all find a little time to do a little art, whatever that may look like.