Life at YESS

Letter from Margo – Summer 2019

Every youth should have a safe place to call home.  This is our goal, but we cannot do it alone.  You’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”—it takes a community to walk alongside every youth with no place to go, and to ensure no youth ever feels alone.  No one will be forgotten.

We want to change the way our community views homelessness. It is never a choice: the youth who access YESS and other vulnerable youth-supporting agencies have experienced trauma in one form or another, whether it is at home, on the street, or even within our care systems. They do not trust the adult systems or communities that failed them, and they believe that the abuse, neglect, mental illness, or negative experiences that have happened to them are their fault.

Investment in our youth is an investment in our community.  Making an investment in programs, staff, and housing for youth gives them the space to heal, learn to trust, and learn life skills every child should be provided. 

It currently costs just over $6,000 to serve one youth at YESS for one year. Compare this number to the approximately $112,000 it costs our city to serve entrenched and addicted homeless adults. It is also important to note that YESS currently receives just over 20% provincial funding for our operating budget. We spend most of our year fundraising to keep operating.

We need your help—we cannot do this without you.  Look to our future. Help us to give our kids the future we all deserve. A future that will give back to the community that believed in them and never gave up!

You are truly part of the community our youth need. Let’s #healtogether at YESS.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature
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YESS Art Connections Program Empowers Youth

In February we hosted ART at ARC: Stories of Resilience, Strength & Creativity, the youth art show and sale to celebrate the artwork created by youth in the YESS Art Connections Program. There were over 80 pieces of original art in 8 types of media and up to 100 pieces of printed art! This program is an important part of helping youth on their journeys towards healing, providing them with a safe space to express themselves and work through their trauma through the power of art. Their guide to exploring their creativity is Svitlana Kravchuk, art program facilitator. Svitlana is a multidisciplinary artist, mainly concentrating on painting, mixed media, and performance art.

“I feel like there are a lot of talented young people in our community who have a lot of passion and creativity that should be shared with others,” says Svitlana. “I wanted to be a part of their support system through making art together and finding way to visually express and communicate what might be going on for them.”

Portrait of Svitlana by Jeremy Vanderweide

“Often when youth are traumatized, the first piece of them to disappear is their voice; being able to speak their truth, say what they feel, identify what scares them and reach out for help,” says Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation at YESS. “When a youth is silenced through trauma, talking with a therapist or a friend or a youth worker can be intimidating and easier to just avoid, despite a system that pushes for youth to speak up and speak out. If youth do not have the tools to rebuild their voice, they will forever stay silent in their journey. Art and the art programming at YESS have been an incredible outlet for youth to begin to build a relationship with their feelings and their thoughts. It is a visual representation of their stories, their emotions, and their world view, and it allows them to see positive and healthy responses to their expressions. Art gives them back their voice and reinforces that their voice is important and beautiful.”

There are a lot of new experiences to come in the Art Connections Program with Svitlana at the helm. In April there will be a workshop with spoken word artist Buddy Wakefield. Buddy is a three-time world champion spoken word artist who will also be performing at Underneath the Stars, the 2019 YESS Gala for Youth.

Our partner in sharing this love of creativity with our youth is Simons, who have generously supported the YESS Art Connections Program for severalyears. Simons is committed to celebrating arts and culture in all their diversity and beauty. Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations in Edmonton, is very proud of how Simons champions the young artists and supports the Art Connections Program at YESS.

“Our continued commitment and support of the Art Connections Program at YESS is truly an honour for us at Simons,” says Yvonne. “Art evokes emotions, inspires conversations, and creates community. You can’t help but be inspired by these talented youth who take us on remarkable spiritual journeys. Their ability to convey messages of hope and healing in an honest, genuine, and pure form is courageous.”

The Art Connections Program also gives youth the opportunity connect with other artists, cultures, and communities.

“What I am most looking forward to is inviting Indigenous artists as well as other artists who represent our communities to share their own stories, knowledge, and experiences through art,” says Svitlana. “I’m hoping to engage more youth and more professional artists in the program, helping youth to be proud of their work and motivated to continue with their artistic endeavours.”

Svitlana uses her own art to explore concepts of displacement, trauma, and female experiences. She understands how art can be used as a powerful tool for expression and coping.

“Everyone’s experience is different. For me, art is a raw expression of heart, mind, and soul. Sometimes it can act as an emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual release and grounding. It can also act as an incredible communication tool that tells a story or reflects where the artist may be in their journey.”

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Letter from Margo – Spring 2019

Welcome Spring and hello friends of YESS!

You have most likely seen YESS use the #healtogether social media “hashtag” over the last 8 months. We at YESS have been trying to highlight just how important community and healthy connections are to solving the root issues facing the vulnerable youth in our city, but we also want to highlight how important community and connection is for every single one of us. 

When we connect in a healthy, honest, and compassionate way, we all heal… together. Neglect, abuse, addiction, hate, and discrimination are easily grown and passed on if people are isolated and viewed as “others” or “them”.  This is true in business, political, and social communities just as much as it is for vulnerable or marginalized groups. We at YESS have been working very hard to be better collaborators: to be more transparent, honest, and understanding with our partner youth-serving agencies, with our funders, with our community partners, and ourselves. It is hard work to change habits and put down bias, but the effort feels good and we believe the connection is helping and even healing us. We know we are doing the right thing. We know that we can only truly serve and walk alongside our hurt young people together

And, if we may, we ask this of you, our beloved community. Join us in healing together. Join us in having honest, compassionate conversations, and connect with us, with young people, and with each other in meaningful ways. This is the way to make a difference. 

Because, when it all comes down to it, we are all underneath the great beautiful stars in our sky… and we all belong. 

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature
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The YESS Kitchen Nourishes the Soul

At YESS our vision is to walk beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. This doesn’t just apply to youth workers in Programs—it applies to every department across YESS! And just like many other folks would say about their own homes, what happens in the kitchen is a huge part of the heart of our work at YESS.

We sat down with YESS Chef Scott Iserhoff to talk about his experiences in creating a space where youth can heal through his culinary calling. Scott studied culinary arts and hotel management in Ontario and has been a chef for over 15 years. But his love of food and community goes back farther than that.

“Cooking is an integral part of my Indigenous culture. My first exposure to food was through eating wild meat with my family and smoking goose over the fire with my grandparents,” says Scott.

How does Scott bring this same powerful feeling he first experienced in childhood to his work at YESS?

“In my culture we say that food is medicine,” says Scott. “Not only does it feed your body, but it also carries a strong sense of community and hard work. Preparing food for others can also be seen as ceremony. It feeds your spirit.”

Almost half of the youth who access YESS identify as Indigenous and Scott takes every opportunity he can to share culture and connection with all our youth.

“Being an Indigenous person and being present in the space of YESS contributes to many youth who are also Indigenous feeling more represented, safer, and having someone to relate to,” says Scott. “This also extends to cooking, where I have the chance to share my cultural dishes with the youth, providing many of them with comfort and connection through food.”

Last year we announced that our focus would move more towards trauma-informed care. This has started to reach out from youth programs to touch other areas of YESS to align all teams with what it means to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing. This includes the kitchen in a major way.

“Food is one of the top resources we need to secure for our kids in trauma care and if we cannot reassure our kids that they will always have food, we will never get to the root of their trauma,” says Cherish Hepas, Kitchen Supervisor. “In a small way we add to a positive experience for our youth on a daily basis through food. It has been a joy to watch them literally eat their hearts out. Trauma-informed care will be a fantastic tool to help our kids. It’s going to be an exciting time for the agency as we embark on this new form of care.”

In his two years at YESS, Scott has impacted hundreds of young lives through food and culture, making YESS a safe and healing space for youth who have experienced trauma. What has Scott taken away from the time he has spent with youth?

“The most remarkable experiences for me are connecting with youth over food and hearing about what they’ve enjoyed or what food they’d like to try in the future,” says Scott. “I wish that more people were aware of homelessness in our city and the huge gaps in resources that still exist, as well as the prejudice and stigma that our youth have to face on a daily basis. With more awareness hopefully there will be more understanding and positive change.”

The special way that YESS chefs Scott, Reddy, and Cherish honour their work in the kitchen shows in the ways our youth experience food, build trust, and heal through relationships.

“This kitchen was given to me as a gift from my predecessor. I treat it like a very special gift. I teach my staff to treat it like a gift,” says Cherish, “That is what walking beside our youth is like. It’s a window into their souls. If this kitchen can somehow touch one of those beautiful souls through food, we will have added a little light in whatever darkness they battle. And that is what food is in the end. Something that truly nourishes.”

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What is trauma and how do we heal?

by Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovations at YESS

Working in the field of trauma support is hard; my friends and family are often confused about what I do and what trauma is. I am sure you are asking the same question: what exactly is trauma and how can YESS actually help youth heal? To answer this question, I ask you to close your eyes and imagine standing in your living room, gazing out your living room window into your community. Imagine the safety and security you feel around being in your own home, in the neighbourhood you have come to love and enjoy. Imagine that a person approaches your window—this person could be a friend, family member, a neighbour, a teacher, or a complete stranger. Now imagine that this person breaks your living room window! It could be that they are breaking into your house to steal something, or they could be trying to scare you, or they could just be breaking the window for their own fun. Either way, your window is now broken, your floor is covered in glass and you are no longer protected from the elements outside (noise, insects, animals, weather, etc). We both know that the window breaking wasn’t your fault.  It scared you and left a mess on the floor and has left you exposed and vulnerable, and none of this was your fault.

You have a choice now: you can avoid cleaning up the glass and replacing the window because this wasn’t your fault or you can use the tools in your house to sweep up the glass and find a way to replace the window. If the glass is not cleaned up, you will get hurt walking around and existing in your house. If your family and friends come over, they could get hurt by the glass as well. Your house will start to deteriorate because of the weather coming in and you will not feel safe or protected. If you clean up the glass, you may need to borrow a broom or get help vacuuming up the pieces. You may need to bring in an expert to help you replace the window. And you can never guarantee that someone won’t break the window again.  But at least you’ll know who to call, what tools you need, and which experts can be brought in to replace the window again. It wasn’t your fault the window broke, but it is your responsibility to clean up and repair your safety, security, and home.

This is the trauma our youth face daily. It is not their fault, but they are left with the responsibility to heal, integrate into the community, and successfully sustain their independence. When the youth experience their trauma, their brains and emotions are not developed enough to know what tools, what experts, and what next steps to heal look like. They are frozen in an emotional survival mode that they use to protect themselves from the confusion, the hurt, and their lack of safety.

Here at YESS, and within every youth-serving agency, we work to help the youth feel that safety to begin to understand their trauma. As they do, we can help them access healthy tools and experts to begin to rebuild relationships and a sense of safety. When youth are given the time and support to transition through their trauma, they are able to see success and growth within themselves and understand their responsibilities and possibilities. With these successes, youth are able to heal and the cycle of support will continue within themselves, their new neighbourhoods, and eventually within our city as a whole.

As a community member, I ask that you take the time to really process what trauma means and how it affects youth, families, and communities. We cannot do this work alone—it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community to heal from trauma. You can help. Your time, your donations, and your voice can all be tools our youth can use to help clean up their home and rebuild a better future.

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Winter Giving 101

Fall is setting in at that means winter is just around the corner. Between the weather getting colder and Christmas approaching we know that donations are going to start to roll in at a rapid pace.  With this being our busiest donation time of the year by far, we thought it would be helpful to both our generous donors and our staff that handle the donations to share some more information, let’s call it Winter Donations 101.

In winter we expand our hours at the Armoury Resource Centre to provide a safe space for our youth to seek refuge from the cold. Despite this, we know that many of youth will spend hours upon hours outside and will need proper winter gear to avoid serious medical issues like frostbite, trench foot, and hypothermia.

Things we always need throughout winter: 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 at Christmas gifts. If you are donating both, you could separate them for us and mark the new items a “Christmas gifts”.  We do not give used items as Christmas gifts, with the exception of electronics.

Many of our youth come from families who have struggled with poverty and did not have the luxury of showering their children with gifts, Christmas at YESS is often the first time they have ever received multiple gifts. It is incredibly heart warming to see their faces light up, usually accompanied by a wave of disbelief. These moments of joy and the feelings of gratitude that follow for long after as the youth continue to enjoy their gifts throughout the year, they are only possible because of the overwhelming generosity of people like yourself.

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!

Winter Giving 101 list

We will collect and sort all of the gifts, and then we have each youth create a wish list. Over 100 youth will be accessing YESS around Christmas time. Once we have all of those wish lists, we go through our collection of goods to customize presents for each and every youth. As you can imagine, this is a ton of work. You can help us in easing this process by removing or scratching off pricing tags and by not bundling presents. We know, it’s super fun to create little gift packs, but in order to customize and ensure that gifts are fairly distributed, it is much easier for us to separate everything. This means if you and a group of friends are making 20 care packages for Christmas, rather than making 20 bags with one of each items in them, instead make one bag of toothbrushes, one bag of soap, one bag of shaving cream, one bag of writing pads, one bag of card games, etc.  It’s also very helpful if gift cards aren’t hidden in other items, again, we strive for fairness and that is easier when we know what’s going out.

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 the outpouring of love for our youth over winter and we can tell you first hand from being with the youth over winter and Christmas that they truly appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness.

For the month of December, donation drop-off hours at Whyte Ave (9310 82 Ave) and the Armoury Resource Centre (10310 85 Ave) are:

Monday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM
Tuesday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-4PM
Wednesday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-4PM
Thursday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-4PM
Friday Whyte Ave 9AM-4PM
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM
Saturday Whyte Ave CLOSED
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM
Sunday Whyte Ave CLOSED
Armoury Resource Centre 9AM-8PM

 

*Donating Christmas gifts? Make sure your donation is dropped off before December 23—that’s the day the elves start wrapping!

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Letter from the ED – Fall 2018

Homeless=Hurt

When you see a youth on the street in Edmonton, you are not just seeing someone without a home, you are seeing a child that is hurt. They have been hurt by their families, or friends, or government systems, or the community they are in, and in many cases, all of the above.

Think about the communities you live, work, and play in. Many of us are fortunate to have people who love us, support us, care for us, and believe in us—even when we don’t believe in ourselves. The youth at YESS haven’t had these empowering, comforting experiences. The community that was supposed to love, support, teach, and empower them was not safe. Our community was not safe.

We are not separate: traumatized youth are not them, they are us. The days when we can all come together are days when we can heal together. These young members of our community can be some of the most powerful contributors to our community if we see them as us, if we let them in and provide, safe and healthy spaces for them, and if we slowly and patiently walk beside them as they try to heal from the damage already done and move forward. This fall we are focusing on bringing more awareness to the hurt behind the symptom of homelessness and to the amazing youth serving organizations who passionately try to help.

You will see us speak more about what these youth face and what our youth serving partners are up to. You will hear us speak about community healing—because we cannot do it alone. It will take each and every one of you and us to make a difference.

We are #healingtogether.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Letter from the ED – Summer 2018

It’s summertime!

The sun is out and the trees are in full bloom and it’s time for a little fun and relaxation at YESS. The summer months are almost already fully booked for recreational activities, including two camping trips to Kananaskis, a summer tree planting gig, community events, and trying out activities with new recreational partners including paintball, bowling, and Sustainival.

The youth will be playing in nature, taking walks in the river valley, floating down the Pembina, taking in the many Edmonton festivals, and eating some fabulous food. As they do these activities we will be talking about community and asking them to be mindful about what makes communities great and strong, and what they would hope for in a strong community.

So, when you are out in your community and your neighborhood this summer, I ask that you do the same. What makes communities great for you? How can you contribute to make it happen?

Have a wonderful summer,

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Letter from the ED

At YESS, we are trying to remove as many barriers to services as possible for youth facing difficult realities. Over the years we have learned that putting too many expectations and restrictions on youth can prevent them from seeking supportive help when they need it most. The majority of youth that we see are facing very difficult situations and could be living with traumatic experiences, fear, mental illness, PTSD, organic brain disorder, and community isolation. We know that within days of being on the street, a youth can be quickly swept up into the tight community of a gang or a predator. If we do not act quickly once they are inside our programs and start to create a safe and secure environment for them, they will be entrenched into street life. Response needs to be quick, compassionate, and non-judgemental, and focused on wrapping a warm hug of welcome around these youth, so that they stay and try to work towards healing and safe and appropriate housing.

Every youth has a story. And every youth comes to us on a different path, with unique needs. That is why we try to meet youth where they are at.

YESS practices harm reduction in our shelters. Youth may be intoxicated when they come to us and we have needle disposal sites at each of our buildings. When we ask and work with a youth to set goals, we work on goals that are appropriate for them. For example, one youth may be ready to try to find employment or go back to high school, another youth may need to get clean through a recovery program, while yet another may need to just work on feeling safe enough to have a conversation with a relative.

Meeting youth where they are at also means being trauma-informed. All YESS employees are trained in understanding trauma and its effects on behavior and how we can best mitigate and de-escalate youth who have been upset or triggered by an event or happening. Youth agencies across Edmonton are becoming much better equipped to deal with the trauma that these youth carry with them, and collectively we know that unless we work together to stabilize their housing, integrate them into our neighborhoods, and help them on their healing journey, we will lose them to the streets.

Moving forward, YESS will be working more and more collectively with city agencies and funders to ensure that we walk alongside these youth as they heal and build relationships.

You can be a part of this. Your generous financial or volunteer support helps us move closer to giving better care. If you are not in a place where you are able to give your time or your money, do me a favor: the next time you see a youth who looks like they might be experiencing homelessness, who might look scared (or even scary), look them in the eyes. Show them that you see them and that they matter.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Art for All

This interview appeared in our Summer 2017 Newsletter. We are re-posting it ahead of Visual Voices: Telling Our Stories Through Art, the YESS Youth Art Show and Sale, opening Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Earlier this year we put a call out for a new YESS Artist in Residence with support from the Edmonton Arts Council. Our Artist in Residence leads the Interactive Art Program at ARC. The art program is constantly evolving, but it’s always a favourite with our youth. The Interactive Art Program is proudly sponsored by Simons, who hold the power of art near and dear to their vision. “What resonates with us most at Simons is the ability to contribute in a way that taps into the creative positivity of the youth and help others see the potential,” says Yvonne Cowan, Director of Store Operations for Simons.

Local artist Allison Tunis was selected to be YESS’ new Artist-in-Residence in the spring. Allison is an Edmonton artist whose work in embroidery and mixed media primarily explores body positivity. She has a graduate degree in Art Therapy and has already worked extensively with youth from difficult realities.

We met with Allison as she began to set up shop at ARC to ask her a few questions.

Interview with Allison_01You already have experience with this demographic. What drew you to the artist in residence position at YESS?

 This position seemed like it was tailor-made for me. I do have quite a bit of experience working with this demographic – I’m trained as an Art Therapist from the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute, and did many of my practicum placements working with youth from difficult realities. When I moved back to Alberta, I worked at the Old Strathcona Youth Society for nearly two years, and participated on the Youth Connect committee and currently work for the Action Alliance for Youth Inclusion (AAYI) group (a local group of non-profit agencies working towards inclusion of high-risk youth) as an administrative assistant. This residency position is a perfect combination of working on my own artwork, and helping youth to use artistic expression in new ways.

 What are you hoping to accomplish with our youth through the Art Program?

 Through this program, I’m really hoping to introduce to the youth the ways that Art and Activism can be used as healing tools. This is the basis of my own work – raising awareness of feminist and body diversity issues, whilst working through some of my own history. The skills that I’ve learned as an artist, an art therapist, and an aspiring activist, are very useful in developing healthy coping mechanisms and methods of self-expression, and I think the youth would benefit from exploring different avenues for how art can contribute to their lives.

In your opinion, what is it about art that makes it such a powerful medium for therapy?

 The powerful aspect of art is that it can really be what you want it to be. You can use it as a diary, as a therapist, as a voice to raise awareness, as a form of meditation, and so on.  It allows for individuals to engage in a variety of different ways, whatever their comfort level and experience level is. As well, regardless of what most people think, artistic skill is not required for making art. It’s accessible to everyone. The benefits of art don’t just magically appear if you are able to produce realistic looking portraits, they are there if you are doing abstract expressionism, if you are finger painting, if you are embroidering, if you are colouring in colouring books. Art can be something different for each person, and it can be a very powerful way of expressing what’s inside when you are unable to put it into words.

Is there a particular project or art style that you’re most excited about sharing with our youth?Interview with Allison_02

 I’m really interested in sharing that art doesn’t have to be traditional “Art” media with the youth. I work mostly in embroidery, which is a traditional craft medium and not usually considered Fine Art. I’d like to show the youth that their skills and histories can be used to make unique art, whether it’s repurposing items they find out in the world, or beading techniques that they learned from their family. I’m also thrilled that there is a high chance that we will be creating a colouring book with the youth, which is something that I have done in the past and am happy to pass on to the youth.

Our youth have learned so much from Allison! Come see their work at Visual Voices: Telling Our Story Through Artthe YESS Youth Art Show and Sale. Opening night is Thursday, October 19, from 6:00PM-8:00PM and the showcase will be open October 20-21, 10AM-4PM, at our Armoury Resource Centre (10310 85 Ave)

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