Christmas

YESS Volunteers Bring the Joy

The last week of April is National Volunteer Week! Every year, hundreds of volunteer commit thousands of hours to make our work with youth experiencing homelessness possible. They support our Programs staff, our Facilities team, and our administrative departments. They create positive experiences for youth, donors, and staff. We truly could not do our job without them!

For National Volunteer Week, we want to share Rick and Dianne’s story. Rick and Dianne have been making Christmas dinner for our youth since 1999! Every year, they share their time and their love over Christmas with youth who call our shelter home.

Thank you so much to Rick and Dianne, and to all our volunteers–longtime and brand new–who make YESS’ work possible!

Tell us a bit about yourselves!

Well, I’m not really sure where to start. I’m 60 years old and have been married to my wife, Dianne Westwood, for thirty years. That said, our relationship actually started a number of years before that. We both grew up in the same small town in Saskatchewan, then went to Saskatoon for post-secondary education, Dianne at the U of S, and me at technical school. Dianne is my strength and keeps me focused and going straight ahead. We’ve lived in Edmonton since 1986. In our first years of marriage, I was going to engineering school at the U of A, and if not for Dianne’s support and encouragement, I would have never made it through. I’m very proud of Dianne; she has been a manager with MacEwan University’s Centre for the Arts for more than 28 years. I have worked in both government and private industry over the years and presently, I’m am an engineer with the Alberta Energy Regulator. We don’t have any children, but have two small dogs, Pumpkin and Rogue, that keep us occupied. We like to make home-made wine, and we also travel as often as our time allows. Over the years we’ve had great driving trips to the Northwest Territories and Yukon, and visited all of our Canadian provinces. We have been lucky enough to make our way to Europe a few times, and even spent a short time in Africa and Asia.

What inspired you to start volunteering with YESS?

Both Dianne and I have done a bit of volunteering over the years. Before I started studying at the U of A, we spent a few months as volunteers with CUSO in Mozambique. Unfortunately, the war that was going on in the country at the time, which was just after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, intensified in the city we were working in. A car bomb went off early one morning not far from where we were living, and it was recommended we leave. I was able to begin studying at the U of A shortly after our return to Canada, and Dianne spent several months volunteering as an ESL tutor before beginning a new job at the downtown YMCA. Basically, we were familiar with volunteering.

To answer your question, thought, through most of the 1990s, we would invite an elderly neighbour over for Christmas dinner. After she passed away, we resumed travelling to Saskatchewan for Christmas with family. After a couple of years, we decided that we would like to stay in Edmonton for the holidays, but did want to do something helpful somewhere. Dianne contacted YESS as we felt the help they offered for young adults was much needed and very worthwhile. Kids whose circumstances made their lives much tougher than ours deserved something at Christmas; offering to cook Christmas dinner wasn’t much, but it was something we felt we could take on, plus we knew that our help would give the shelter’s cook the opportunity to have the day with his family.

We are a bit unsure of the first year that we volunteered to cook at YESS, but we think it was 1999. We did miss cooking at Christmas in 2002, but haven’t missed any years since then.

If there was one thing you wish the community knew about YESS, what would it be?

I think that many Edmontonians aren’t aware enough of some problems that exist in Edmonton. We hear about the efforts that the City and a number of wonderful supporting agencies are doing to address issues, homelessness and hunger to name a couple, but we don’t hear much about troubled youth and the efforts that agencies such as YESS are doing to help support them and provide life skills training for them.

What special memories do you have of spending Christmas with the youth of YESS?

Over the years of volunteering at Christmas at YESS, we have lots of fond memories and have met wonderful volunteers, staff and clients. Nancy Ng is has been a volunteer cook for most of the years that Dianne and I have Christmas day at YESS. Nancy is a great traveler and mountain climber and has told us of many of her adventures; something we have enjoyed a lot and look forward to hearing on each occasion we meet. Really though, the hustle and bustle of preparing and serving dinner for 20 to 30 people makes for a busy piece of the day! The kids always appreciate our efforts and nearly every one of them takes a moment to say “thank you”. I especially like it when they come to us and say the food reminds them of Christmas dinners at their Grandma’s house; I like to think that these are beautiful memories for them, and that is very special for us! The staff at the Armoury are always helpful to get things set up, and the youth have their duties in clearing up the dishes after the meal. Once all is done and we are heading home, we always feel that we’ve accomplished something that we can be proud of…it isn’t much, but it is something we’ve been able to contribute.

What are your words to live by?

Be honest and respectful when dealing with people and they will respond in kind.

If you are interested in volunteering with YESS, please visit yess.org for more information!

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Christmas Giving

Christmas at YESS would not be the joyous time it is without the help and dedication of our volunteers. Nancy Ng has been serving Christmas dinner to our youth for the past 12 years. She has made sure that hundreds of youth have had a warm and welcoming Christmas Day as they all sit down to eat together. It means so much to us and our youth that she chooses to spend this precious time with us, a gift in itself.

Tell us a bit about yourself! I work as a writer for the Government of Alberta. I am also a non-fiction author. My first book (No, Really, Where Are You From?) was published in 2012, and it is being sold in different venues and bookstores around Edmonton. I’m currently working on my 2nd and 3rd book. I always look forward to all the festivals this great city has to offer in the summer, especially Heritage Days.

What inspired you to start volunteering with YESS? I had a very chaotic and unstable childhood, so I understand what a lot of the kids at YESS are going through. I never got to use YESS when I was a youth, but I could still relate to a lot of the youth at YESS, as it was a very difficult time in my life.

It means so much to me to know that the youth get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day.

As I’m older now and my life is no longer turbulent and uncertain, I still feel the presence of my youth. It’s heartbreaking to know that these youth have no place to go on such a day as Christmas (or any other day). I feel they need Christmas more than I do, and that is why I wanted to volunteer at YESS on Christmas Day. I have a warm and safe place to return to every single day of my life, but not these youth. I feel regardless if you’re a homeless youth or an adult, everybody deserves a place to go to that is warm and inviting, and have food for them, and not be outside walking around stressing where they can get some shelter or where their next meal is coming from. Nobody deserves to live that way.

If there was one thing you wish the community knew about YESS, what would it be? The one thing I wish the community knew about YESS is their life-changing programs and services to help homeless youth get back on their feet again. Whether it’s giving them structure, helping them with their resumes, or providing them with warm beds, YESS is there for these youth. As our economy becomes more volatile and ever changing, so are the family dynamics and structure. Edmonton is very lucky to have this organization help our homeless youth.

What special memories do you have of spending Christmas with the youth of YESS? There have been so many special memories of spending Christmas with youths at YESS. The ones that stand out for me the most are seeing the happiness in the youth’s faces throughout the years, when I see them at the Armoury or at the YESS headquarters. They know they’re in a safe and warm environment, and it shows in their faces. That means so much to me to know that they get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day, amidst their chaotic and turbulent everyday realities. It’s the least I can do and I will never forget that. I hope one day I can have the opportunity to bring my children in to also volunteer, so they can see what I see.

What are your words to live by? My words to live by are: It’s going to get better. I promise. In line with my philosophy is one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Thank you so much, Nancy, for being a strong and positive force for our youth over the past 12 years and for giving the gift of your time and service. Thank you for sharing the true meaning of the holidays with us!

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The Christmas Shoes

It was December20151230-145903.jpg 23, and there was still one Christmas wish we hadn’t yet been able to fulfill. One of our youth always dresses up. His everyday attire is a suit, tie, and torn dress shoes that have seen better days. On this young man’s Christmas wish list was a pair of spiffy, black, dress shoes. Size 12. Triple wide. Not the easiest type of shoe to find, and we hadn’t really had time to hunt for them. It was looking like the new shoes just weren’t going to happen.

And then we read a message that Burkhard, a generous Edmontonian, had sent us through Facebook, offering to purchase the steel toe boots that were on another wish list that we had posted a photo of. If the youth had already received boots, Burkhard said he’d be “more than happy to fulfill someone else’s wish.”

We knew that the next day was Christmas Eve, and that most stores don’t carry triple wide shoes, and that the chances of anyone having time to search for something so specific with such short notice was slim – but we passed the Christmas wish on to Burkhard anyways.

And sure enough, to our surprise, we received a message from Burkhard on Christmas Eve day. It said, “I’m on the hunt for the shoes, so far I have not found anywhere that carries triple wide. Any idea where I might find them?”

The search was on. We googled and made phone calls, trying to find a store that was still open and that carried triple wide dress shoes, while Burkhard searched every shoe store in the mall and drove around to other stores as well.

And just after 4PM on Christmas Eve, Burkhard delivered a pair of size 12, black, triple wide, men’s dress to our shelter, making a Christmas wish come true for one youth experiencing homelessness.

It’s a gift that goes far beyond what is inside the box. The thoughtfulness showed the young man that someone cared; that he was important and had value. And we have no doubt his perfect fitting, Christmas shoes will give him a new sense of confidence and take him great places in 2016 as he works towards stability and independence.

 

Thank you Burkhard, and all the amazing Edmontonians that helped make Christmas miracles happen at YESS.

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Give Health: Amanda’s Story

I was born in Regina, though I spent most of my life moving around Alberta and Saskatchewan. I grew up surrounded by violence and addiction. My mom would try to stay sober, but she’d always slip. I was using drugs and drinking by the time I was 12. I’m the oldest of ten kids, and I spent a lot of time cooking, cleaning, and looking after my brothers and sisters. I was used to it though – my mom kept having more kids, and they became more dependent on me as time went by. I was the mom and the big sister all the time.

I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy my youth, and when I did have time, I usually experimented with drugs or drank. My siblings and I ended up with Social Services time and time again over the years, but they always sent us back.

No one ever taught me how to deal with my feelings or anger, so I used to get into a lot of fights. I ended up at EYOC and another halfway house called CSS. I used to think my friends were my family, but I ended up in trouble over and over and they were never there for me.

I eventually ended up on the street.  Again, it seemed like my street friends were like my family. We tried to look out for each other, but when you’re hungry and you have nothing to eat, drugs will make the hunger go away, at least.

YESS has helped me a lot when I was down and out, and even when I started trying to make changes. They were supportive through a lot of phases of my life. I’ve suffered, lost and gained a lot over my life, but overall I think I’m successful. I’ve got my own place, am 9 months clean and I have a job. All that hard work has paid off.

The gift of health is yours to give when you send a #GiveChristmas card. One “Give Health” card gives five youth the mental health and addictions support they need to move forward into a healthy, fulfilling future. Visit www.givechristmas.yess.org to help a kid like Amanda.

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Give Hope: Brandon’s Story

When I was three years old, Children’s Services removed me from my home due to my parents’ addiction issues. I was placed directly in a group home for toddlers, until a foster home could be located. I spent eight years in one foster home. But as I got older, things started to change. I was starting to understand my situation more: that I wasn’t living with my real parents, that my home life was different from my friends’ at school. It created a lot of anger that I couldn’t understand. Why was I here? Why was I taken away from my family? All of this wondering about where I came from started to build up in me, and I started to act out.

Brandon1

My foster parents decided they couldn’t have me in their home anymore. I was bounced around in group care with no sense of stability and no real parents or family. Eventually I was couch surfing because Children’s Services had no other placements for me. When I had nowhere else to go, I slept on slides in playgroups, or laundry rooms in open apartment buildings.

At 17, I came to YESS. I met people who could help me manage my anger and build my confidence. Once I wasn’t obsessed with the past anymore, I could start to think about the future. I’ve caught up on school and I’m finally getting my high school diploma. I want to go to post-secondary, but I don’t know what I want to take yet. I love music, but I also love space and the universe and the idea of exploring it. Maybe that comes from my desire to know where I came from—but on the larger scale of where we all come from. It’s like I’ve finally found my place.

The gift of hope is yours to give to youth in need. One “Give Hope” #GiveChristmas card provides the necessities to one youth for one day. When a kid like Brandon doesn’t have to worry about where he’ll sleep or where his next meal is coming from, he can focus on his potential and start to feel positive about the future. Your gift will change a life. Visit www.givechristmas.yess.org

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Give Transportation: Zach’s Story

A police officer came by our Whyte Avenue building to drop off a wallet that had been lost on the train. It belonged to one of our youth living in Graham’s Place—Zach—who was at work. The officer offered to drop the wallet off with Zach if he was nearby, but he was at work at West Edmonton Mall on the other side of the city. The officer looked concerned: how would Zach get home if he didn’t have his wallet, which held his bus pass?

Meanwhile, Zach was at work and noticed that his wallet was missing. He called the house parent at Graham’s Place to let her know that he would probably be late for curfew. If a bus driver would not let him ride for free, he would have to walk the 10 kilometres home. He had done it before.


The officer was shocked that Zach would walk all that way. He said that if he got a call out in the west end and had time, he would try to find Zach to drop a bus ticket off for him.

Zach returned home to Graham’s Place shortly after his shift, well before curfew. He told a story about a police officer who stopped at the transit station and given him a bus ticket, as well as his name and badge number. Zach was amazed at the kindness shown to him, especially by a police officer. It was a remarkable experience all around, and a great meeting of the community and our youth.

The gift of transportation is bigger than you might think. One “Give Transportation” ‪#‎GiveChristmas‬ card provides a ten bus tickets to our youth, who need to get to school, to work, to medical and counselling appointments–and they need to be able to do it without riding transit illegally. Visit www.givechristmas.yess.org to help a kid like Zach. Your gift will change a life.

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Gifts In Kind: Where Do Your Donations End Up?

Giving back is simple. It starts with a decision to just lend a helping hand to someone in need.

Maybe you saw a story on the news saying that a local charity was low on food donations so you started collecting cans of soup from family and friends to help restock the shelves. Or maybe you finally outgrew a beloved, comfy hoodie and you just wanted to pass it along to keep someone else warm.  Whatever your reason for taking the step to donate, we’re really glad you did!

Here at YESS, the two most common types of donations we are gifted with are what we call “monetary donations” and “in kind donations.” Monetary donations are just that –  donations in the form of cash, cheque, or an online process. In kind items, on the other hand, are donations of tangible goods – like food, clothing, toiletries, or gifts for the kids to enjoy, like a video game.

So what exactly happens to these donations after they are dropped off at YESS?

The process begins with our facilities team. They carefully sort all of the items, going through boxes of food, bags of donations, and trunks full of stuff. Our facilities team sees everything from boxes of socks and deodorant, to strange items like cans of paint and leg braces.

Things like toothbrushes, deodorant, makeup, personal hygiene products, razors, soap, and clothing make their way to our donation room. Many kids come to us with only the clothes on their backs.  These kids will visit the donation room and carefully flip through hangers of donated clothing.  Some will need an entire set of clean clothes, others may just need a dressy shirt for a job interview.

Food donations are sorted by our kitchen team, who decide what items need to be used right away and what can go in the fridge or freezer and added to the menu later in the week. Food is then transported to one of our three buildings – our Whyte Avenue building, which houses our Nexus Emergency Shelter and Graham’s Place; the Armoury Resource Centre, where our daytime programming takes place; or to Shanoa’s place, our residential home in west Edmonton. Things like cereal, soup, pasta, canned meat, jams, crackers, granola bars, sauces, and other snacks end up on our pantry shelves. Perishable items like milk and meat end up in one of our oversized fridges or freezers.

And what exactly happened to that can of chicken soup you dropped off?

It was warmed up and placed in the ice cold hands of a youth who had nothing but tattered mittens to wear on the harsh winter streets, and with it came nourishment, comfort, and strength.

You can be assured that every donation, big and small, is loved and appreciated at YESS.

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