Community

Meet the Youth Agency Collaboration and Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response Team

To share their experiences in working with youth and as part of the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response, we talked to Gus Gusul, Management and Strategy Consultant for the Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC), and Lux, Family Resource Network Manager for the C5 NE Hub.


Tell us a bit about yourself and organization.

Gus Gusul: My name is Gus. Now, I know that legally my name is really Matthew Gusul, but no one calls me that (except my mom and the police) – please call me Gus. I am from rural Alberta growing up on an acreage a half mile south of a village named Bittern Lake that is halfway between Camrose and Wetaskiwin on Treaty Six Territory. My family came to Canada one generation ago on my dad’s side (Ukrainian) and two generations ago on my mom’s (Polish), making me a Settler.

I have spent a lot of time in university classrooms, recording studios, rehearsal halls, theatres, in the various places charities/non-profits call offices, pubs/coffee shops, and riding my bike. I have a PhD in theatre where my research was working in Tamil Nadu/Pondicherry, India to help start intergenerational theatre performances in rural areas. I have played in bands and am currently working on recording some songs I have written. I have also written several plays and have taught acting. I have worked for charities/non-profits for all my career outside of a year-long stint working for Indigenous Relations for the Government of Alberta.

I am currently hired as a Strategy and Management Consultant to help the Youth Agency Collaboration complete the final phase of our process in creating a city-wide model for the alleviation of the negative effects of poverty and homelessness on young people in Edmonton. YESS and Boyle Street are sharing the fiscal responsibility for my role.

Lux: My name is Lux, my pronouns are they/them, and I grew up in Treaty 7 territory, just outside Mohkinstsis. A proud queer and trans first generation Canadian, I have spent my adult life in the Human Services field and am currently the Family Resource Network Manager for the C5 NE Hub. The C5 is a collaboration of five non-profits (Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Boyle Street Community Services, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Norwood Family and Child Resource Centre, and Terra Centre for Teen Parents) who collectively support over 30,000 Edmontonians. The C5 NE Hub is a microcosm of the collaboration in action and was a response to a lack of services in NE Edmonton. The C5 NE Hub currently offers a community hub, employment supports, a Family Resource Network Hub, and food security programming.

How did you become involved with Youth Agency Collaboration and the Coordinated Youth Response?

GG: Last year while I was working as the Interim Executive Director of iHuman Youth Society, I was a member of the Leadership Steering Committee for YAC/CYR after Margo and Krysta (Krysta Fitzgerald, Deputy Executive Director, Boyle Street Community Services) invited me to sit on the committee. I really identified with the goals of YAC/ CYR in the efforts towards collaboration.

While working in India, I was amazed at the level of collaboration between the charities. If one group had extra milk, vegetables, laborers, or just about anything it was immediately shared with their neighbour organization; they collaborated on fundraising in the bigger cities and made sure any visiting dignitaries saw all the amazing work being done in their communities. I was more accustomed to the territoriality and competition between charities I had seen in Canada. I am excited to be working towards collaboration as I see the reality that a rising tide raises all the boats, not just mine. This past summer, I felt my time with iHuman was winding down and took on the challenge of helping with completing the final phase of the YAC Project as the Strategy and Management Consultant.

L: The C5 NE Hub and our Boyle Street neighbour program, Ubuntu, became a joint CYR Hub from the inception of the response, and I had the pleasure of representing us at the table. My background is in youth work and I have a long history of working in youth crisis and housing instability, so it was a good fit. I am able to bring my experience in agency collaboration, my experience as a frontline worker, and my lived experience as a natural support of folx experiencing crisis and housing instability to this work.

How does the Youth Agency Collaboration and the Coordinated Youth Response address the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness?

GG: Youth-serving agencies in Edmonton are not collaborating well. The fault for this does not lie with the agencies but with the culture our community has historically operated in. Charities are in competition with each other. We compete for funding from the government, for donation dollars from the Edmonton public, and we compete to have young people’s foot traffic through our agencies so we can show the best data. This culture of competition has weakened the ability of youth-serving agencies to meet the needs of young people.

The main purpose behind YAC/CYR is to reform this culture of competition into a culture of collaboration where agencies work to blanket the whole city in crisis services which young people can utilize to aid them in their ability to self-actualize the goals they have for their life. The group of agencies that serve young people in Edmonton will gain in strength through collaboration. We will be better able to advocate to government and business to what our sector needs to support the young people and the frontline staff. If we unite our voice, it will strengthen our voice. If we unite our knowledge, it will strengthen our ability to serve. If we unite our efforts, we will make a positive impact on the young people’s ability to achieve their goals.

I also see YAC/CYR as an opportunity to refocus the efforts of the youth-serving sector from treating the symptoms of poverty, houselessness, and other negative effects caused by capitalism and colonialism and to look at treating the root issues of trauma and family/community neglect. YAC/CYR goal of collaboration gives the youth-serving agencies in Edmonton the ability to focus on more preventative measures. Our collaboration will work to set a standard of practice that will focus on prevention. This shift in focus will help build community and aid young people in their ability to obtain self-actualization.

L: The YAC/CYR work is based on a report completed in Edmonton using stakeholder and lived experience feedback. By utilizing participant-based and practice-based evidence to guide our work we ensure that the voices of those we serve are at the forefront of our decision making. The CYR platform leverages technology to get youth connected to a team of supports when they ask for it, rather than expecting youth to traverse the entire city, often taking several

days, to build their care team on their own, if they are able to navigate the existing barriers. We are meeting the unique needs of developing brains experiencing crisis and housing instability by reducing wait times to be connected to resources and sharing in the labour of building an appropriate care team.

That youth experiencing crisis and housing instability are kind, talented, dynamic human beings whose brains are still developing. Like any other youth they are navigating the world around them, determining the paths they will take in the future. They deserve the same space and grace we give all youth.

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The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response

In May 2020 the City of Edmonton was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the EXPO Centre was opened to support adults experiencing housing instability in their isolation and pandemic needs. Immediately, youth-servicing agencies noticed a significant gap in pandemic supports for youth aged 15–25.

The indoor public spaces and buildings that young people accessed during the day were no longer accessible, public transit was unavailable, and they were prohibited from being outside in public spaces. To further limit support for them, many agencies were closing for weeks at a time with quarantines. It was clear that much stronger collaboration and communication was needed to support youth in crisis during this time and in September 2020, YESS co-launched the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response with our youth agency partners, Boyle Street Community Services and iHuman Youth Society.

The Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response (CYR) is a growing group of youth-serving agencies across the city committed to ensuring that young people receive timely, trauma-informed access to basic needs, pandemic support, and same-day virtual connections to other agencies. Through the CYR online platform, young people can access food, shelter, clothing, and housing connections from various agencies as well as access screening, testing, and safe isolation.

The CYR includes youth-serving agencies, schools, and secondary service partners such as Children’s Services and the Edmonton Police Service (EPS). In January 2021, the Edmonton Coordinated Youth Response was given an Indigenous name by Elder Kokum Rose Wabasca: kanaweyim oskayak (pronounced CAN-ah-WEEM oh-SKY- YAK), which means “taking care of the youth.” And, as of February 2021, young people can access or get information on kanaweyim oskayak by texting or calling 211. The Coordinated Youth Response, kanayweim oskayak, is also a pilot project to practice coordination and integration between agencies within our Youth Agency Collaboration (YAC) work to build a long-term, city-wide plan for a collaboration, integrated network of care model for the prevention of youth homelessness.

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Community Spotlight: Mealshare

Mealshare is committed to creating a world where it’s easier to share with those in need, and every child and youth is fed as a result. And, they won’t stop until that’s happened.

How does Mealshare work? Mealshare partners with restaurants and selects a “Mealshare Item” for the menu. When a customer orders this item, they get their meal, just like normal—and for each of those items sold, restaurants contribute $1.00 to Mealshare. Those funds are shared with partner agencies like YESS to purchase groceries and ingredients to provide meals for children and youth. Buy one, give one—it’s that simple!

Mealshare first partnered with us in 2015 and they have donated over $100,000 to YESS! 

We talked to Shree Govindarajan about her experience in bringing restaurants and charities together to support youth and children in our communities.


Tell us about yourself and your role at Mealshare.

My name is Shree, and I am the Edmonton Community Leader for Mealshare. I joined the organization in August 2018 to help fight against youth hunger, and connect with the restaurant community to do so. The Community Leader position is a combination of restaurant recruitment and retention, as well as managing our charity partners, and other community stakeholders. It’s been a rewarding experience, and such a great way to engage with my city.

How does Mealshare work?

It’s really simple! Mealshare is a non-profit organization whose mission is to end youth hunger in our lifetimes, with a Buy 1, Give 1 model. Our partner restaurants put the Mealshare logo on 2-3 menu items, and when patrons go in and order those items, they not only get a delicious meal, but they also share a meal with a youth in need through our program. Our partner restaurants provide us with funds for each one of their Mealshare items sold, and we distribute those funds to partner charities who then serve those meals. It’s a really great way to turn dining out into helping out!

Why did Mealshare choose to focus on supporting kids and youth focused organizations?

Kids and youth are such a vulnerable population, and we wanted to focus on these groups as well as the glaring issue of youth hunger in our communities. When people think of starving kids, they often think of groups in other countries, of it being a far-away issue. They often don’t think about the kids who live in their own communities, who are going to school without lunches in their backpacks, or food in their bellies. Especially as kids need good nutrition in this critical growth stage, it’s so important that they receive healthy meals on a consistent basis, and we’re so happy we can help through our program.

How does Mealshare see their impact in the community?

Recently, Mealshare hit the 4.5 million meals shared mark, which is incredible. Just thinking about 4.5 million Canadian kids who were fed through our program is very humbling, and also mind-blowing. Our impact on a day-to-day basis is still humbling, if not a little more easy to digest. We hear from restaurant owners that their customers love that they can give back to their communities in a way that is tangible, and guilt-free. We hear from our charity partners that it is nice to have a consistent source of funding, and that it helps them to plan and budget better. We see it in volunteer sessions with our partner charities, when we can serve meals directly alongside our restaurant partners, and see the impact of our work as kids and youth fill their plates.

Find out which Edmonton restaurants partner with Mealshare here

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The Orange Door Project

The Home Depot Canada Foundation is committed to supporting initiatives that prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada. They support youth at-risk or facing homelessness by helping them realize their full potential and build a brighter future.

In December 2020 for the Orange Door Project Campaign, 182 stores participated nationwide to support their local youth-serving charities. First established in 2008, the Orange Door Project’s in-store fundraising campaign unites our communities together to help give back through $2 donations at the till.

With the Orange Door Project and support from The Home Depot Canada Foundation, over $1 million was raised for 125 youth-serving charities across Canada! In Edmonton and the surrounding area, nine stores selected YESS as their charity of choice and raised over $50,000 for youth in our community!

After going through an uncertain year and adjusting to health and safety protocols in the pandemic, the support of the community rallying together and giving back has truly blown us away!

Keep an eye out at your local Home Depot for their next Orange Door Project Campaign!

Home Depot Strathcona

Home Depot Clareview

Home Depot Sherwood Park

Home Depot South Edmonton Common

Home Depot Skyview

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Long View Systems & SkipTheDepot

Last year, Long View Systems wanted to do a fundraiser to support YESS and youth in their community, but the pandemic made it difficult for them to work together when they couldn’t get together. They contacted our Community Engagement team for more information on fundraising options that would be accessible them, and we helped them find a solution with SkipTheDepot!

Tell us a bit about yourselves! Long View is one of North America’s fastest-growing IT Solutions organizations. We are one of the largest privately-owned IT services and solutions companies in North America, with offices across the continent. Our people-centric approach allows us to employ and retain many of the world’s leading enterprise technologists. We support the world’s dynamic businesses by bringing agility, simplicity and insight to your people, so they can serve your clients.

What made you choose YESS for your fundraiser? We chose YESS as an organization to donate to as we wanted to support our local youth in need and work with an organization that focuses on improving youth homelessness. SkipTheDepot has made fundraising easy during these challenging times. The process was simple and safe, with COVID-19 here we needed to find a way that everyone could donate without leaving their homes.

Thank you so much to Long View Systems! They raised $344 through their online bottle drive with SkipTheDepot!

 


 

Let SkipTheDepot make recycling easy for you! This made-in-Alberta initiative provides an awesome service picking up bottles from you front door, and you can even choose to give your refund to your favourite charity!

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Community Spotlight: Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE)

This month we want highlight the work being done at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE). May is Sexual Violence Awareness Month in Alberta, and May 5 the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

We talked to Meital Siva-Jain, Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Initiatives Team Lead at SACE. Meital shares the programs and resources SACE offers as well as the impact she sees their work having on the community, from youth to older generations.

Tell us about your organization and your role.

The Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton’s mandate is to support people impacted by sexual violence and to change the attitudes and values that lead to sexual violence. We offer counselling services to ages 3 and up, support and information lines, police and court support, public education, and community and institutional support. We offer these services to all genders and backgrounds at no fee. We also have a Diversity and Inclusion program that works to ensure our services are accessible to anyone that might need to access them.

I joined SACE in 2014 and have been leading the Diversity and Inclusion program since then. Under this role I focus on building relationships with other organizations and community members to address barriers to services. This role has allowed me to learn from community members about how systemic barriers impact their access to support. I also learned that addressing those barriers is often the support that folks need to do their own healing.

One way to address barriers is to offer tailored content and services. Last summer, a group of SACE staff started creating a resource for newcomers in Canada that provides information on consent and healthy relationship in accessible and inclusive language. This work included many community consultations with partner organizations, and it resulted in the creation of Landed. We are very happy to see how well Landed has been received by the community.   

Is there anything new or innovative your organization is currently promoting or focusing on?

We’re excited to soon be offering the WiseGuyz program to our community; WiseGuyz  is a school-based program for grade nine boys that addresses the issues young men face and gives participants tools to engage in healthy relationships.

We’re also now offering training for professionals and care providers working with older adult populations. The trainings seek to provide those in the elder care sector with the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to recognize sexual violence in their places of work and supportively respond to older adults who have been recently or historically impacted by this issue. We’ll be releasing a one-pager handout and learn article that summarizes key information from the presentation and that service providers can use as a reference and to promote awareness and competency in their workplace around elder sexual abuse. We hope this information will be a reminder to folks that it is never too late to start healing.

How do you see your organization’s impact on the community?

I see our impact in twofold: the impact on survivors of sexual violence and their families, and on the community at large. In terms of survivors, it is important for people of all genders and backgrounds to know they can be heard and accepted. As a survivor, I remember that just the mere existence of a sexual assault centre made me feel acknowledged. So I think that the first impact of SACE is that survivors know there is a place dedicated to support them. Being believed and accepted helps with healing and ultimately contributes to a healthier community.

The second part of our impact is in the community level. Like others in the anti-violence sector, we work hard to promote consent and show that violent behaviours are linked to specific attitudes and values. Our approach is centred on non-victim blaming education, and we use an anti-oppressive lens when working with communities. I am an optimist and see a positive shift in how the public understands sexual violence and addresses it.

What is one thing you wish the community knew about the realities that youth currently face when it comes to sexual health and safety?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth are more dependent on social media to connect with their peers. Many of us did not grow with social media and we need to remember that beside social connection it can also offer great resources and support for kids. For example, I hear from my daughter how youth use social media to promote inclusiveness and “cancel” people who use offending behaviours. It is our responsibility to teach kids about sexual health and healthy behaviours, and to provide them with this toolbox to better navigate the digital world. But we also need to trust them when they use it and not blame them if they experience any kind of violence.

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International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia

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.”

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iHuman Youth Society

iHuman Youth Society is a non-profit that believes all young people have gifts to share. In partnership with marginalized young people, they amplify their creative expression, address their needs, and support goals that privilege their voices. They support youth impacted by the negative outcomes associated with poverty, intergenerational trauma, addiction, mental health, abuse, racism, discrimination, and exploitation. Over 500 youth between 12-24 years of age access iHuman every year, 80% of whom self-identify as Indigenous. While iHuman provides free access to their services and programs, they are not a drop-in centre—youth actively engage in determining their individualized journey through iHuman’s resources and guide how they can be supported.

We talked to Steve Pirot, Artistic Director of iHuman Studios, about their mission to invite young artists to use acts of expression to transform their experiences of trauma into experiences of self-worth, purpose, identity, and belonging. 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work with iHuman.

My name is Steve Pirot and my job title is Artistic Director of iHuman Studios; prior to working here I was an actor, writer, director, and producer of theatre and festivals. My function at iHuman is to provide direction and oversight to our studio system. I work for a large collective of artists who happen to be between the ages of 12 and 24. My job is to organize schedules, budgets, materials, staff, volunteers, spaces, and shows so that members of that collective have opportunities to express themselves. Sometimes that opportunity for expression will be personal, quiet, private; sometimes that opportunity will be public and effusive. Sometimes my job is to ensure a studio has a gentle vibe for an artist to work undisturbed, and sometimes my job is to bark into a microphone as iHuman’s hype-man.

In coming to iHuman from a mainstream artistic practice, I have had to recalibrate. My definition of art used to be informed by the idea that art was a commodity to be consumed; in that paradigm the idea of The Artist was necessarily elitist, because there needed to be an audience (the majority) that would consume the work created by the artist (the minority). In my practice at iHuman I have transformed to a perspective that art is not a product, but rather it is a process of expression. If you have the capacity to express, then you are an artist, and therefore all people are artists because it does not matter if your artistry is public, or even if it is ever viewed by another person. 

 

Why is art/creativity an important experience for youth to cultivate and have access to?

The essence of art is expression, and it is important for ALL people regardless of age to have the ability to express themselves. Cultivating the tools and habits of self-expression is essential for scores of reasons: to be sound in one’s mind, to build solid relationships, to foster a balanced society. It is especially important to cultivate these habits when younger because the skills one learns through the process of producing beats, or organizing chords, or composing a photograph, or beading earrings, or sewing a ribbon skirt… these are all transferable skills. In essence we are talking about pattern recognition, project planning and execution, communication. At iHuman we don’t look at art as being a product, but rather it is a tool to promote other outcomes. 

 

What is something you wish the community knew about youth who are healing from trauma?

I wish that the community at large was better informed about our brains actually function. How do our brains behave when hijacked by the amygdala? Can we identify the symptoms of an individual in shock? How is an individual in the grip of a flight/fight response able to interact with the world? If the general public were better informed about how human brains work, then we could have a better foundation to have meaningful conversations about more complex issues like multi-generational trauma, addictions, etc.


On April 1, 2021, iHuman is hosting a drive-thru donation event! Drop off donations without leaving your car and enjoy live art and music from iHuman artists!

For more information visit ihuman.org or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

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Do I Need a Will?

The answer is YES. I believe that every person who is eligible to make a Will, should have a Will. The reasons are many, but here are a few of the most important ones:

  1. People often assume that their immediate family (spouse, common-law partner, adult children) will be able to look after their estate if they pass away. This is incorrect. No person, not even a spouse, has the legal authority to deal with your estate when you pass away. Having a Will makes the process of estate administration much easier because the person you name as your executor (now called your Personal Representative) takes authority from the Will immediately upon your death, and can begin administering certain aspects of your estate right away. Without a Will, no steps can be taken until a grant of administration is obtained from the Court. Even with a Will, your Personal Representative may have to apply for a Grant of Probate in order to deal with some of your assets, but institutions like banks and investment companies are much more cooperative and willing to provide information to the person named in a Will as the Personal Representative than they are to a person making inquiries that has no Will to rely on. By making a Will, you make the process of settling your estate much easier and less stressful for your family and friends who may are left to sort out your estate without any guidance from you and without knowing your wishes.

 

  1. A Will allows you to choose who will act as your Personal Representative and administer your estate. You can choose a person(s) whom you trust and you know will follow your wishes as you have set them out in your Will. If you die without a Will, legislation in Alberta provides a list of the people who have the first right to apply to administer your estate, but that may not be who you would choose to do this job for you.

 

  1. A Will allows you to choose who will receive the proceeds of your estate. Although you have a legal obligation to support your dependents (spouse, common-law partner, minor children, adult children who are unable to earn a livelihood due to a physical or mental disability), you can otherwise make gifts as you choose. If you die without a Will, again there is legislation in Alberta that determines which family members will receive your estate.

 

  1. A Will allows you to leave gifts to a charity or charities in the amounts or proportions you decide. Without a Will, there is no provision for any of your estate to be given to the charities you supported during your lifetime. For many people it is important to them that some of their estate be left to their favorite charities. There are also some income tax benefits to your estate to making charitable gifts in your Will.

 

Making a Will is much easier than most people think. I often have clients comment when they are leaving my office having signed their Wills about how simple and easy the process was, and had they known, they would have done a Will much sooner.

I encourage everyone to make a Will to make it easier for your loved ones to take care of your estate during a sad and stressful time for them, to prevent unnecessary family disputes, and to ensure that your estate is given to those that you want to receive it.

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Breaking Barriers in Mental Health Support

In January, Africa Centre and The Alberta Black Therapists Network launched their new counselling program! This program not only provides free counselling services, but is also part of breaking down barriers and stigma that still surround accessing mental health supports.

We talked to Noreen Sibanda, Executive Director of The Alberta Black Therapists Network, about this new program and its impact on the community.

Tell us about the new counselling program in collaboration with The Africa Centre.

The clinic is funded by the United Way and a collaboration between Africa Centre and The Alberta Black Therapists Network (ABTN). We are proud to offer free counselling support to the African descent community through licensed therapists who have a cultural understanding and offer trauma and healing centered approaches. Our services provide formal, 50-minute, one-to-one counselling sessions in the form of short-term intervention, utilizing solution-focused therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. The services are available over a secure video platform and can be accessed as an individual, group, or couple. We also had secured a donation from Ikea to furnish an office space that we look forward to utilizing when restrictions are lifted.

Why is now an important time for this resource to be available?

We have seen a rise in the need for mental health resources because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now more than ever people need professional support. Unfortunately, despite this desperate need, the barriers to accessing support (cost, long waiting times, stigma), still exist. This service allows people who are struggling with their mental health to connect and not have to worry about costs, as most people cannot afford to access therapeutic support. It allows our community to access services from the organizations that they already know, at no cost and from individuals that share similar lived experiences.

What is something you wish the community knew about youth mental health?

I believe mental health needs to be a part of our overall wellness. Supports services need to include healing, otherwise we are merely treating the symptoms which leads to an overuse of services.

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