Life at YESS

Winter Giving 101

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

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



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


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



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


Thursday, December 14, open until 7PM

Thursday, December 21, open until 7PM




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

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

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

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



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

Quality ear buds or headphones

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


Brand name sweatpants and hoodies

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


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

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


Waterproof gloves

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


General winter gear

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


Reusable water bottles and travel mugs

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


Smart phones, new or gently used

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


Laptops, new or gently used

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


Charging cables and battery packs, new or gently used

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



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


Gift cards

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


Portable gaming systems, new or gently used

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


Quality art supplies


Quality chocolates and candy


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



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

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

We can accept:

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


For example:

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

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


For example:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From Jessica Day, Chief Programs Officer, YESS

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

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

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

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

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


From Eman Mohamed, Compass Supervisor, YESS

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

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

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


From Karley Spelrem, Transition Team Lead, YESS

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

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


From YESS Youth

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


From YESS Youth

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


From Belen Samuel, Edmonton change-maker

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

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

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Our Collaboration with Our Neighbours

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


Interview with Elizabeth Showalter

Tell us about yourself and your connection with YESS.

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


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

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


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

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


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


Interview with Barbara McPherson

Tell us about yourself and your connection with YESS.

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


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

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


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

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

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Our Collaboration with the City of Edmonton

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

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

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


Tell us about your organization’s connection to YESS.

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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Soul of a Building and Heart of a Team

One day on my way from the Armoury to our Whyte Avenue location I saw one of our youth waiting at a bus stop. They were showered, in fresh clothes, listening to music while waiting for the bus, which left me with a great sense of pride knowing my team provided this youth with their clothes, a safe space to sleep and shower, and their meals so they could proceed with their day indistinguishable from every other person at that bus stop.” – Darin Maxwell, Director of Facilities, YESS

Darin Maxwell, Director of Facilities

Hello. I’m Darin Maxwell and I have been the YESS Operations Manager since December of 2020, and now the Director of Facilities. I manage the Facilities and Kitchen teams and wish my legacy to be the critical importance of providing and maintaining safe spaces for our youth, enabling them to continue their journey towards adulthood.  

The facilities team maintains, cleans, and cares for YESS’ properties. Our days can run the gamut of having simple projects and chores to complete, to those filled with more wide-ranging challenges. We make sure our youth have access to clean, secure sleeping quarters, shower and laundry facilities, and sanitized spaces in which to access the many resources YESS provides. My team’s work provides the physical elements that our city’s most vulnerable youth need so that they will be able to bring their best selves forward into our programs. We provide the resources for them to continue their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration rested, clean, clothed, and fed.

Donations in their many forms help to support and are an essential part of all that we provide as a team for the youth. Funds enable us to maintain the properties and to purchase wholesome food. The very basics of clothing and furniture can bring a lot of joy into young lives, as does the gift of time and talents from our many volunteers. The generosity of the community is always needed and is truly appreciated!

Being a native Edmontonian, I am humbled by the opportunity to bring my organization and team-building skills to supporting youth where I live, ensuring they can then strengthen this community with their own legacy for future generations.


Rhonda Friskie, Facilities Maintenance Supervisor

Hi! My name is Rhonda Friskie and I’ve been working at YESS for 13 years now. I’d have to say my favourite part about working here has been witnessing our youth reach their full potential. Despite their difficult beginnings, when given a little love and support, they end up flourishing and move on to do amazing things. The world can sometimes be a harsh place, and the strength and courage it takes for them to work through incredibly challenging circumstances is nothing short of admirable. I am deeply inspired by and admire our youth.

I love my role here at YESS and the variety it gives me, with each day presenting new challenges. I am part of an amazing team who work hard to keep our buildings safe for our staff and clients. Everyone here shares the same vision and is dedicated to the mission. I’ve met some of the most amazing people in my time here at YESS who continue to inspire me daily, and I feel fortunate to be a part of this incredible team.


YESS Facilities Team (left to right, back row to front row): Jerome Bongon, Facilities Assistant; Rhonda Friskie, Facilities Maintenance Supervisor; Darin Maxwell, Director of Facilities; Mark Porter, Facilities Worker; Rosemarie Morla, Facilities Assistant; Zandra Buison, Facilities Assistant

Hello, my name is Rosemarie Morla and I have been at YESS for eight years. What I enjoy most about working at YESS is the opportunity to contribute to and offer the youth a safe, comfortable, and clean environment. I enjoy hearing of youth success stories and I am proud to be a part of their journey.


Hi everyone. I’m Zandra. I’ve been working at YESS for eight years already and enjoy working with the Facilities team helping programs provide what youth need.








Jessica Day, Chief Program Officer

When we are talking about providing therapeutic spaces for young people, we have to start with our buildings and our maintenance teams. Before a youth or youth worker can be in program, we have to have plans on the layout of the building, the paint colours, the safety of the building, the health of the people who work and live in the space, and the processes for cleaning and repairing the building throughout service delivery. This is important because, as much as we work to build healthy relationships with the youth between our staff and their peers or community, we have to remember that they are building up a very fragile sense of self—self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-expression.

The young people we serve have experienced trauma and this has changed their development from rational problem-solving to emotional survival mode. In this survival mode, problem-solving and communication skills are not developed, or are lost, and this can contribute to crisis behaviours and escalated outbursts. It is really important when a youth is coming down from the escalation that they are supported emotionally but also within the physical space. They have to know that a hole punched in the wall can be repaired and repainted quickly, so that they and other youth are not staring at the physical reminder of their reactions or choices. When windows are broken, we have to respond quickly to ensure that everyone feels safe, and they know that the window will be replaced. If they make a mess and cannot clean it up themselves, we will be there to support and provide them with a clean and healthy environment when they return. It is so important to provide consistency, predictability, and transparency in repairs, cleaning, and building maintenance for the visual safety and security that these youth need. Many of them come from homes where they did not have this foundation of response and support and so we have to show them they deserve nice places too. It provides hope, safety, and an opportunity to try again tomorrow—their crisis outbursts weren’t permanent and neither is the damage. They will calm down, the building will be repaired or cleaned, and they can move forward and learn from the experience. If we did not focus on quick responses and providing safety for staff and youth to work or grow, then their fragile self-worth would be infected with visual shame and reminders of their lowest points.

When a youth has a healthy trajectory of brain development, then they can start to rationalize their behaviour or experiences and learn from them. When a youth is in survival mode, they are not rational; they are emotional and the emotions around the behaviours or experiences solidify in a protective survival way, not a healthy experience way, and that can further cause trauma or heighten trauma responses in the future or even slow down their development further. So we clean, every day. And we replace the windows every time they break without question and without hesitation. We re-patch, we repair, we adjust temperatures, we fix stair rails, and we focus on what we can bring in for safety and security measures to ensure that youth and the staff can do their jobs to the fullest.

What makes our Facilities team unique is that they understand that their role is much bigger than the tasks. They know and believe that they are partners with our Programs staff and work in tandem with respect and empowerment to be around the youth and staff, and also to be seen and heard in program as part of what YESS offers. They laugh and sing and dance and respond with kindness and politeness and a softness that the youth appreciate and the staff respect. While they are a different department that has different strategies, they worked side by side with our programs during the pandemic as essential staff and they continue to work side by side with our Programs staff because both teams are central to providing truly therapeutic care.



The legacy and layers by which every edifice establishes its own unique character have at their foundation the talents, inspiration, warmth, and skills of the people tasked with its care as they build out an ever-evolving story: bricks and mortar tucked with history, shimmering sunlight reflects off of freshly mopped floors, aged tiles betray the skids and markings left behind as well-used furniture is shifted and repositioned. A gentle flutter is perceived as fresh sheets are crisply folded and stacked, the clicking and clanking of doors are heard as laughter and conversation gently wafts along hallways, and the powerful and rhythmic buzz of an electric saw echoes from a busy tool room. 

Follow along with the YESS Facilities Team as they share a glimpse into days filled with a choreography of planning, craftsmanship, cleaning, polish, and care.

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YESS x Simons Art Show

On July 13-15, Simons and YESS collaborated to highlight our longstanding relationship with a wonderful celebration of art at the Simons WEM location. This incredible event was a beautiful showing of the various kinds of artistic gifts and talents of YESS youth artists, Simons staff artists, and YESS staff artists alike. Guests enjoyed an exhibition of eclectic creativity including beautifully crafted bead work, monochrome sketching focused on the visual power of black, white, and shades in between, colourful and emotive paintings of acrylic on canvas, watercolor and digital art, and multimedium projects.

In addition to a beautiful gallery of 85 pieces of amazing art, we were also able to give six youth the opportunity to create art live in the store, together with participating Simons and YESS staff artists.

For the past 11 years, Simons has been an incredible champion and support of the YESS art program. Providing funding for supplies, artists in residence, and program coordinators, Simons has empowered youth to explore various media types and develop their artistic knowledge and skills.

Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations, Simons WEM, has seen the growth of evolution of both the art programming and the youth as artists. “In these exceptional times it is our hope that the interactive arts activities in YESS programs 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.”

Why is art an important aspect of YESS programs? Art therapy is instrumental in helping youth work through difficult experiences and emotions. Art promotes self-expression and personal independence, and encourages the development of healthy coping strategies. Making art builds strengths such as decision-making, teamwork, positive self esteem and mastery, self-soothing abilities, overall mental wellness, and the ability to express oneself in a healthy manner. These are all skills that youth at YESS need in order to succeed, and many of them have been able to take their art practice and use it in ways that serve them best.

Melissa Mukai, Program Coordinator at YESS, facilitates the youth art program and coordinated the space for youth to do live art in-store for the art show. “We had the opportunity to showcase YESS youth and staff art at Simons WEM over the three days of the art show. In addition to a beautiful gallery of amazing art, we were also able to give six youth the opportunity to create art live in the store. We, the youth and YESS staff, were met with nothing but kindness and warmth from the Simons team, with them going above and beyond any expectations I had to make a safe and enjoyable experience for the youth. Our youth represented YESS beautifully; they were total professionals, and it really was a joy to see them so welcomed and supported out in the community.” 

A huge thank you to Simons for their unwavering support of YESS and for hosting our spectacular collaborative art show. We appreciate their dedication to showcasing the artistic brilliance of young minds, which is truly remarkable.

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Congratulations to YESS Chef Tiffany Sorensen, winner of the Janet Hughes Award from Edmonton’s Food Bank!

In May, YESS Chef Tiffany Sorensen was awarded the Janet Hughes Award from Edmonton’s Food Bank, which honours an individual’s commitment to direct food relief and solving the underlying causes of hunger. Tiffany has worked in our kitchens and programs for almost eight years, not only providing nutritional food for youth but also teaching cooking as an important life skill.

Tiffany was nominated for this award by YESS Chief Program Officer Jessica Day, and President and CEO Margo Long. This award from Edmonton’s Food Bank is named after Janet Hughes, the first chairperson when Edmonton’s Food Bank was formed in 1981.



As the Program Kitchen Coordinator for Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS), Tiffany Sorensen considers food, meals, and nutrition as more than mere necessities. Instead, she sees them as powerful tools that can aid young people in healing from trauma, developing resiliency, and acquiring new skills that can benefit them for life.

YESS youth come from a variety of backgrounds and regardless of their unique experiences, they are all experiencing trauma. Tiffany weaves this understanding into her work and prioritizes providing a safe and supportive space with interactions rooted in compassion and kindness.

Tiffany works with youth to educate them about food safety, nutrition, and fundamental kitchen skills, preparing them for their eventual transition to independence. She encourages young people to voice their opinions and preferences regarding food, allowing them to participate in creating the weekly menus or requesting homemade meals for their birthdays. By doing so, she fosters healthy relationships and addresses the underlying trauma associated with food and food security.

Tiffany has been deeply influential in supporting and collaborating with food bank locations within Edmonton. As our liaison, she fosters relationships with both locations and expertly manages expectations, communication, access, and resource supports. Her careful attention and nurturing demeanor make a meaningful difference in the lives of our youth, who feel empowered to ask for assistance thanks to her work reducing the stigma surrounding support-seeking. Even throughout the pandemic, Tiffany’s dedication and advocacy for our partners have remained unwavering.

In addition to her partnership-building skills, Tiffany has also leveraged her talents to produce short videos that demonstrate creative ways to use food bank items in both simple and complex meals. Her innovative approach to food inspires both our youth and staff, and she infuses each interaction with compassion and kindness, recognizing the unique trauma that our youth have experienced.



Did you know…

You can cook along with YESS Chef Tiffany too! Check out our playlist of Tiffany’s cooking videos for all sorts of meals, snacks, beverages, and treats!

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The Importance of Pride at YESS

Interview with Ash Dafoe, Youth Worker

Tell us about yourself and your position at YESS!

Hello, my name is Ash (she/they) and I’m a youth worker at the Armoury Resource Centre. I get to support our youths with connecting to resources and programming. 


What particular principles or processes does YESS have to ensure that programs are a safe space for youth who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ and may be on a journey of healing when it comes to their sexuality or gender identity?

YESS provides a safe space for youth who are a journey of self-discovery through inclusive language, resources, and programming. We strive to provide gender affirming care with support from our allies. The diversity in us as front-line workers who have and are continuing to walk this journey while welcoming and empowering youth to grow in their own ways, creates a positive impact on our surrounding community, and the lives of our youths. 


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

We at YESS stand on our non-judgmental policy and teach others to view differences as the wholly beautiful human experiences that they are. When we work to integrate our youth into their local communities, we hope they carry these life lessons with them, making those communities more diverse, inclusive, and caring. 


Pride is about activism, but it is also a celebration! What is the impact of 2SLGBTQ+ youth having opportunities to celebrate themselves and share joy?

As we support these youth on their journeys, and by unconditionally accepting them into our community, we are empowering them to love themselves. When someone is truly accepted, truly welcomed to the table, and they come to love their whole self, this is what makes the world a better place. 


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

I would love for the community to know that each and every one of the youth who have accessed YESS deserve to feel unconditionally loved, welcomed to the table, and empowered to love exactly who they are, right now, and in the future. 

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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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