Life at YESS

Spotlight on the Youth Education and Employment Program

The YESS Youth Education and Employment Program provides youth between the ages of 15–24 with skills and knowledge to help them identify career goals, access job-specific training, and learn job readiness skills like cover letter writing and interview skills.

This year, we are so grateful for the support of The Home Depot Canada Foundation and their grant of $150,000 in support of the Youth Education and Employment Program! The Home Depot Canada Foundation is committed to preventing and ending youth homelessness in Canada. Together with community partners across the country, they work to remove barriers, break cycles of inequity, and enable at-risk youth facing homelessness to achieve positive development outcomes and realize their full potential.

 

Staff at the Skyview, South Common, Westmount, and Windermere Home Depot locations with The Home Depot Canada Foundation grant amount of $150,000 in support of YESS

 

We talked to YESS staff members Caitlin Parker, Karley Spelrem, and Juwayriya Abdullahi, who run and support the Youth Education and Employment Program, about what they see youth learn and achieve in this program.

 

Describe your role at YESS!

Caitlin and Juwayriya: We are the Employment Coordinators. We facilitate the Youth Education and Employment Program. Before the program begins, we provide information to youth about what the program entails and complete the intake for each of the youth who are interested. We also reach out and form connections to agencies throughout Edmonton to support the youth during their placements. During the program, we teach youth for three weeks about life skills that can help them obtain employment. An example of this would be discussing employability skills and mental health. After this takes place, each of the youth complete the 12-week employment/practicum portion of the program. We support both the youth and the employers throughout these weeks. Finally, we work with the Transitional Worker to form a plan for what comes next after each youth has completed the entire 15-week program.

Karley: I am the Transitional Worker at YESS where I work with our Supportive Housing Program to transition youth out of our group homes and into independence. I also work with community youth as well as Children Services youth to transition them into our group homes. I support youth in the Youth Education and Employment Program with their transition out of the program, whether that is getting hired onto to work full-time or finding alternative job placements that work with their schedules.

 

Describe the Youth Education and Employment Program.

The Youth Education and Employment Program is a 15-week program that assists youth between the ages of 15-24 with building skills to enter the workforce. The first three weeks entails in-class lessons with the Employment Coordinators where the youth learn life skills such as resume building and how to be successful in an interview. Following that, the youth are placed with an employer for 12 weeks while being provided with the support needed to ensure they are successful at their work placements. Finally, a transition plan is created to provide the youth with a clear path for what their life will look like after the employment program is complete.

 

What are the training/opportunities/outlets that this program provides for youth who access YESS?

The Youth Education and Employment Program provides youth with three weeks of in-class training, followed by 12 weeks of work experience at a place of employment. Youth are trained in basic safety courses such as First Aid and food safety, as well as employment-specific training by obtaining licensing, that is required by employers at their work placements. Youth are led through different courses during the initial 3 weeks which include employment skills, mental health, sexual awareness, and finances. The program supports youth in their placements of choice by seeking to eliminate barriers that might cause inconsistency.

 

How is this program part of the YESS mission to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration?

Within our Youth Education and Employment Program we provide youth with training on mental health, relationships, boundaries, advocacy, health and safety, basic hygiene, cooking skills, etc. We prioritize the first three weeks to class time where we enhance each of these skills before entering the workplace. We also ensure the youth are housed or have housing set up prior to attending the program to eliminate any barriers while in the work field. With this wraparound support from Employment Coordinators and Transitional Workers, we are able to ensure the success of each youth after the eight-week mark of completing our employment program.

 

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

Juwayriya: The youth who access YESS did not choose to experience the barriers they face. They are survivors who are fighting to break the cycle of violence and trauma they have been entrenched in. They are inspiring because of their motivation to help improve their circumstances. They are resilient because they are persistent in their resolve despite setbacks.

The youth at YESS have experienced trauma throughout their lives, yet they are tenacious in their pursuit of healing, community integration, and reaching their full potential in life.

 


 

Thank you so much to the Youth Education and Employment Program work experience partners!

Atlantic Fence
Bottle Depot Windermere (Windermere, 3515 Allan Drive)
Bottle Depot Winterburn (West End, 21410 100 Ave)
Evergreen Recycling
FIND Edmonton
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore North
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore Sherwood Park
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore South
Habitat for Humanity – ReStore West
Little Caesars (McConachie Edmonton)
Pita Pit (104 Street NW, Whyte Ave)
YESS Kitchen

The Youth Education and Employment Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy

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Recipe for a Legacy: Find Your Passion, Share What You Love, Enrich a Life

Captured in the rhythm and warmth of the YESS kitchen is the heart and soul of a wholly talented and imaginative culinary team focused on the delivery of daily healthy meals for young people seeking respite and comfort.

Moments of gentle conversation and spontaneous laughter mingle together with the many sounds and nuances of this hub of activity: the rhythmic whisk and crunch of vegetables being peeled and chopped; the tap-tap-tap of aromatic herbs being minced; bubbling pots; the sizzle and bounce of oil on the grill; the clinking of cutlery and gentle clatter of dishes.

A beautiful medley of old, new, and shared experiences, mingle together to craft a beautifully delicious legacy of food, nutriment, and welcome.


MEET THE KITCHEN TEAM

“Legacy is defined as ‘something that is left or handed down by a predecessor.’ And so, what knowledge has been passed on to me that I am now bringing to YESS? Hello, I’m Ryan Little and I have been with YESS since January 2021. This past March, I assumed the role of Kitchen Team Supervisor. This is the story of my legacy and how I’ve applied it during my time at YESS.”

As a child, I was gifted with a love for cooking from my dad. He was always willing to try something new and recreate the meals that he had seen on one of his cooking shows. He loved sharing with others what he thought was good. I can remember big family meals that he had cooked for everyone, and it brought us together regularly. These values were ingrained in me from early on. When I started to help him, he would encourage me to “play with flavours” and “try everything at least once”. You never know that you do or do not like something unless you try it. It is a standard that I hold many people to, even to this day. Growing up in a rural Manitoba community allowed me to also learn a wide range of cultural foods from our neighbours. We would have perogy and cabbage roll making parties; we would share the Bannock that we made with others; and our community potlucks were another staple that grew my passion for food and cooking.

That is where it all started for me. Then, as a teen, I took a job in the kitchen at our local small-town diner and that passion continued. In my early 20’s, I went to culinary school and further refined my skills, focusing on flavours and playing with new and existing cuisines. Once I had finished there, I worked in steak houses, catering, hotels, Mexican, southern, east coast, fine dining… You name it. I have done it. All of this expanded my knowledge and continuously kept me passionate about my job. With the pandemic, I found myself – along with countless others – looking for a job. Then, YESS came along.

YESS has been a great learning experience for me. I have gotten to share my knowledge of food with the youth. I’ve even gotten to experiment with foods and flavours that I have not had the opportunity to work with before. In the kitchen, the food pantry is donation based, and we plan our menus according to what donations we have. We do purchase small amounts of food to supplement what we need to finesse the meals. We are open to all feedback, and regularly get feedback from the youth in attendance. There are times the youth do not love the food we offer, and that is okay. For me, the takeaway is that they tried it! We have also been able to do special requests for birthdays and other celebrations, and that allows us to get to play with food that we would not otherwise cook.

The legacy I bring to YESS is my knowledge of the different styles of cooking that I have done; the home recipes that my dad taught me; and the dishes taught to me by neighbours. I want to share all of that, and I want the youth to get to enjoy the foods I love. I want them to talk about the meals that we make, and for them to give us their opinions. Their opinions are very important to me and help me to continuously grow as a chef.

When the youth or I move on from YESS, I want my legacy to simply be that I shared what I loved. My hope is that the youth loved it as well and want to share it with others.


Greetings! I’m George Richter and I have been a YESS Kitchen Team Member since September of 2021. I feel that my defining legacy will be found in relationship building. I recall many favourite memories of food experiences that I have woven into meal preparation and cooking, so that it becomes one full experience for the youth.

Just recently, I had a steak dinner with my friends to celebrate a success with his work. There were laughs, smiles and great times. There are also those times where food is associated with bad memories. Memories of making ends meet, struggling with isolation, fearful of change or new experiences.

I think that our job as cooks is to create a positive space where the youth can be themselves and be able to get the essentials that they need to thrive as human beings.

Some foods may be triggering to youth or may be off limits with religious or dietary restrictions. We must face those challenges and be prepared for all kinds of curveballs we might face.

A personal story, linked to food, was when I first came to Edmonton. With no social circle and feeling isolated, I got a job at a Mexican restaurant. I made some great friends and learned how to make great tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas. All those became the foods that brought me comfort.

From that job, I started having a social circle and started thriving more as an individual. I associate the process of my discovery of Mexican cuisine a lot with where my passion began, and I wish that to be my legacy to the youth. It could well be that they experience something similar – an unexpected friendship and connection when in a dark or unfamiliar time – and are able to turn that into the start of something positive.

Outside of food, I foster a culture of collaboration, positivity, and fun – which cannot be said for many places in hospitality. I find that the team we have here supports each other well and there is a comradery that I have not seen before joining YESS. It is my wish that this culture continues even after any of the kitchen team moves on and that we continue to strive for creating an inclusive space where we encourage everyone to do their best every day.


Hello, I am Damodar Manikyala, known as Reddy by everyone. I have been at YESS for the last three and a half years as a kitchen team member. Before joining YESS, I worked with many hotels, and restaurants, in addition to 10 years on cruise ships. Altogether, I have almost 20 years of cooking experience ranging from fine dining to batch style cooking.

My passion is cooking. I enjoy cooking food for others and playing with flavours, while at the same time, making nutritious food to keep us healthy. I believe in eating healthy food rather than spending money on medicine when we get sick.

Legacy for me is taking what I have learned through my experiences and sharing them with my colleagues. Teaching them the simple and easy methods of cooking that save time and energy while at the same time being delicious to eat.

Though we never get to meet youth directly, our prepared meals will make them talk about our food and the passion that we show towards the food to keep everyone healthy. That is the legacy I want to leave for them.

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YESS Celebrates Indigenous History Month!

by Shantell Martineau, Programming Coordinator

 

Can you tell us about the Ceremony you just went on with the youth?

YESS was invited to bring Youth to the land for 6 days of Ceremony. It was a Fasting Ceremony. There was an opportunity to be of service and help. Helping roles looked like dishwashing, cooking the feast, chopping wood, set-up/take-down, and supporting the lodge helpers. The roles to fill provided access to knowledge, companionship, leadership, and growth opportunities for both the Youth and Staff. Entering the lodges, singing the songs, feeling the drums and rattles, feasting together, and hearing the teachings of the Ceremony were all accessible for Youth. Seeing Youth connect with Elder, be inquisitive, receive helper protocol, explore the land, and support each other along this journey was a gift. Learning along the way that Ceremony can be explored. Not everyone is ready to enter the lodge, but maybe sitting around the lodge and hearing the singing and prayers and teachings is enough. I personally learnt that meeting the needs and readiness is enough. 

What do you wish more people knew for Indigenous History Month?

I wish more people knew about the sacred connection Indigenous Peoples have with Mother Earth, with Creator, with Spirit, and with all Creation. Connection to ancestral lineage that gives strength and resiliency. I wish more people could see us as we see them, our relations, our brothers, our sisters, our equals. I wish more people could witness the natural learning we enter while we connect on the land. We gather with the land, we pray with the land, we celebrate and hold Ceremony for the land. I wish more people could understand and respect this truth. I wish more helpers step forward and support Indigenous Peoples right to advocate and to create spaces for this connection to grow stronger. I wish this help could be witnessed and felt every day of the year but starting with a Month is still a good way to grow.

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YESS Celebrates Pride Month!

by Tessa Mulcair, Manager of Shelters

 

This month we held a youth Pride event with some of our community partners. We won’t lie, we’ve been missing the Pride parade around here. The majority of our youth are 2SLGBTQ+ and many have faced isolation and rejection from their families for it. The Pride parade was a time where we could not only celebrate our youth, but also surround them with thousands of people flying rainbows and letting them physically see that they belong in the community.

While there was no parade this year, there was a block-style festival held at Grindstone Theater. These types of events, though they are inclusive and accessible in nature, can be intimidating for people who are not quite sure where they belong in society. When you hear “You’re not a paying customer, go away” the other 364 days a year, it can be hard to suddenly trust that if you sit down to watch a free drag show or concert you won’t be shooed away. So, we created an event just for marginalized youth to kick off the festival and set them up to know that they belong at Pride too.

Together with CHEW, OSYS, and iHuman we created a space where youth could get their rainbow on – literally, with a Pride swag station. They could get decked out in free rainbow gear and glitter, or simply grab a flag, either way the goal was to make sure they would fit right in at the festival. We had Fox Burger swing by with their food truck and generously provide an amazing meal, so they would not feel left out if they could not afford the festival food options. Kind Ice Cream provided us with their rainbow “Gay OK” ice cream, of course it was a big hit too. Youth could create their own patches and buttons on the spot so that they could reflect their identity exactly how they wanted to. We had a selfie station where they could get an instant-print picture with friends or our fabulous guest drag queen, Karmic the Kween. We also had guest appearances by local queer icons MLA Janis Irwin and MP Randy Boissonnault. And finally, we held a “reverse parade”, making signs and waving our flags on Gateway Blvd to celebrate with those driving by our little event, pulling in a hint of that community support we know is so strong.

We’d like to give a huge thank you to all those that worked to pull this event together, our youth felt the love and support.

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Message from Margo – Youth Homelessness

In the October issue of our newsletter, we bring a focus to youth homelessness. Why? It is not just because we love our jobs—we believe that this is the most strategic focus our city, province, and country can take to address some of our deepest community issues. Here are two arguments for focusing on youth homelessness separately from adult homelessness:

  1. Youth are The drivers that brought them into homelessness are not just about housing. In 2020, YESS served approximately 642* young people between the ages of 15 and 25 who had experienced housing instability and trauma (see YESS 2020/2021 Annual Report). These young people did not choose to experience homelessness. Instead, they are fighting to survive their experiences with trauma: abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, violence, discrimination, and more. Living in survival mode comes from trauma in the home, trauma within families, and trauma within their communities.
  1. Focusing on alleviating and preventing youth homelessness is true prevention. It is our belief that if these traumatic experiences are left unaddressed in young people, they will most likely create cyclic barriers to healing and moving forward with their lives in a positive way in community. But if we give youth safe space, consistent and non-judgemental support and teaching, and the time to choose their own path to success, we can prevent further entrenchment into the cycles of trauma and homelessness. Youth agencies in the city focused on intervention and support of youth in crisis are actually deemed “late prevention” services, based on the definitions in A Way Home Canada’s Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness. “The homeless youth of today become the homeless adults of tomorrow, given that Canadian Point-in-Time Count data indicates that 50% of homeless adults had their first experience of homelessness prior to the age of 25. It is time for a preventative approach. If we could do a better job of preventing youth homelessness in the first place through a focus on well- being, we might have a bigger impact on chronic homelessness amongst adults in the long run.” (Gaetz et al. 2019. We Can’t Wait: The Urgent Need for Youth Homelessness Prevention. Parity, 32(8), 6.).

And here is the most important shift required. IF we can agree that youth are different and that focusing on the prevention of youth homelessness is much more strategic as a true preventative effort (early prevention is even better), then the system of care that addresses youth homelessness must have the capacity for the intense time, expertise, infrastructure, and people capacity required to do such complex work. In short, support for youth homelessness needs to be much more than the afterthought it currently is. In this issue, you will hear about the incredible strategic and collaborative work of the Youth Agency Collaboration and their Coordinated Youth Response, celebrate the leadership of The Home Depot Edmonton stores in their support of YESS for the summer Orange Door Campaign and The Home Depot Canada Foundation in their commitment to supporting initiatives that prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada, and you will hear about our valued partners at Southview Acura and their incredible support of youth in crisis.

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Into the Future

Tessa has been involved in the humanities field for 22 years. Her passion is to help high risk youth reach their goals by helping them navigate around the barriers in their lives and build essential life skills. This passion is what brought her to work for Youth Empowerment & Support Services, where she serves as Manager of the Shelter Programs, including the Nexus 24/7 sleep shelter, the Armoury Resource Centre, and the Cohort Independent Living Program. Tessa believes that collaboration is key to ending systemic homelessness across the city. Tessa received the Commonwealth Gold Medal Award from Canada’s Lieutenant General for her work with the Youth Restorative Action Project.  


Over the past 18 months, there have been many adjustments and innovations made in YESS programs. Even looking back to pre-pandemic times, why is it important for youth-serving agencies to be flexible and open to change? 

Adaptability has always been an important part of our frontline services. The youth themselves are constantly changing, and as some move on and new youth move in, this creates a shift in both trends and needs which are both influenced by a lot of factors. One year we might be seeing a big push for gang recruitment in the area and we need to pivot our efforts towards a safety and risk-focused programming in mind, another year we might see a spike in interest for going back to school and we pivot towards a stability focus that will drive success there. 

The pandemic for us wasn’t an exception to this, but it is a perfect example of what flexibility really means for us. When the pandemic first hit, one of the most urgent issues was that individuals experiencing homelessness suddenly had fewer places to physically be, in the middle of winter. Malls were closed, libraires were closed, all of the safe spaces to loiter simply weren’t accessible anymore. We knew that we immediately needed to modify our operating hours to be 24/7 between our day and night programs so that youth had a space to just exist safely. We also anticipated that there would be many new youth coming through our doors for the first time, with the closures of schools and many people losing jobs. High stress + nowhere to escape to = a breaking point in some households that were already struggling. This is exactly what we saw, a spike in new clients who very likely would never have been in our service if the pandemic had not caused this tipping point to happen. In other words, a spike in clients who were very much not prepared for life on the streets. The population shifts, external risks shift, community supports shift… it’s a fluid environment and we need to remain fluid in order to provide the best version of support for the youth who need us today.  

 

 

How do youth-serving agencies impact not just youth’s futures, but also the future of the wider community? 

A single youth does not exist in a bubble, they have family and friends, they go to school and have jobs, they pass by and interact with many people—just like we all do. They are a part of our community. Pain and suffering are not siloed, when any member of our society struggles it affects us all. Sometimes this is in very direct ways, like when someone who is struggling with severe addictions becomes desperate enough to rob a stranger. Sometimes it’s in more subtle ways, like the high cost of emergency physical and mental health interventions for people experiencing homelessness, and this affects the public budgets which we all pay for. What if we can prevent the residual trauma of events like that community member being robbed by having addictions programs ready and available? What if we can prevent the enormous cost of emergency services for homeless individuals by spending far less money on meaningful prevention and interruption of homelessness?  

If we help meet the needs of our most vulnerable, then we lift the entire community at the same time.  

 

Based on the changes you have seen in the youth sector during your career, in what ways do you think this work will continue to evolve, either in the broader sector or specifically at YESS? 

I hope to see the sector as a whole pulling away from methods that institutionalize youth. We need more services that directly aim to end chronic underlaying issues that cause cyclical homelessness. We can’t simply have shelters and independent housing—we need to focus on the transitional programs that fit in-between those two points. Programs that build life skills, that offer support rather than coddling, that guide rather than control, programs that create an environment where autonomy and self-reliance can grow and thrive, programs that promote healthy integration into community. ­­­­­­­­­ 

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Holding the Present

Marcia trained as a psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience working with youth and their families, five years of which has been spent in Edmonton working with youth who are homeless. She is motivated by her love for youth and seeks to find ways in joining them on their journeys in pursuit of healing. Her strengths include the ability to bear witness to the experience of others, facilitate containment of others, and collaborate with others in the exploration of their strengths. 


YESS has made trauma-informed care a focus in all programs. Can you speak to how this has impacted the youth experience at YESS, and how this focus has evolved in the years that you have worked at YESS?

Trauma-informed practice speaks to the integration and understanding of past and current experiences of trauma into all aspects of the work we do for the populations that we serve. Our staff at YESS receive trauma-informed care training and are therefore aware of the high prevalence of trauma in our society and the wide range of responses, effects, and adaptations that people make to cope with their trauma. As we continue to mediate these experiences of our youth through our relationship-building, creating connections, and facilitating healthy attachments, there continues to be a rise in youth safety levels, as is demonstrated in increased access our services, ease in inhabiting our spaces, and opening up and connecting with staff.

 

How does access to therapy and trauma-informed support impact youth in their current circumstances as well as into their futures?

Therapy sessions utilise a strength-based approach, helping youth discover their authentic selves, their abilities, and resources, and employ them to build and improve their coping strategies so they can better respond to cues and emotions associated with traumatic events. Therapy also provides an opportunity for youth to explore their thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behavior, and learn new coping techniques to better manage the daily stressors and symptoms they experience. Some of these skills include relaxation strategies, self-regulation, and anxiety management. Trauma-informed support emphasises working collaboratively to deliver optimum services, as well as offering chances for choice in programs, which promote empowerment, and the prospect for healthy attachment. The trauma-informed support we provide at YESS also promotes resiliency building, as we seek to improve the protective factors in the lives of our youth.

 

How does the ever-widening conversation of mental health affect the youth as well as the community?

The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults. We are then called upon to be aware of and facilitate the experiences that contribute to good mental health in youth. Factors such as a strong sense of safety in community; high self-esteem, self-efficacy, and positive sense of self-worth; and connection to spiritual or cultural beliefs, goals, or dreams provide meaning and purpose youths’ lives.

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A Look at the Past

Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovation, has been working with vulnerable populations since obtaining her BA in Psychology from the University of Alberta in 2004. Jessica spent the early days of her career working in a variety of group care settings focusing on high-risk children and youth with complex cases. Her work often involved clients who had experienced extreme family violence and sexual abuse. When Jessica joined the YESS family in 2016, she focused on becoming a certified Trauma and Compassion Fatigue Practitioner to fully understand the trauma journeys of youth and staff.  Jessica brings a wealth of experience and deep understanding of the complex needs of the most vulnerable youth. 


When you asked me to look back to when I first started in this field, I was shocked to think it’s been over 20 years. Time flies when you are helping humans to grow and develop, as any parent will tell you. What I do remember from my first days in group care, was the battle between my educated ego and my lack of experience and how all first-time workers feel. We feel smart and understanding of other human behaviour, having educated ourselves on the psychology and sociology behind how to work with youth at risk, children in care or transitioning youth to adulthood. We have this profound sense of ego that we know all the tools and techniques to help kids and change the system for the better. We are smart and we are going to save lives and change the world! And then we are hit with what the real experiences of working with youth are like and that is when the real work actually begins.

They say knowledge is power, however trying to explain the hierarchy of needs to an escalated youth resulted in a chair being thrown at my head and my life being threatened in the first 30 minutes of being on shift. I wasn’t actually in any danger; the youth was escalated because I gave them space and fuel to be escalated and when the adrenaline wore off, so did the threat. I can remember, clearly, the process of writing about this incident in the hand-written logbook and shaping the narrative of what happened out of fear of my job being questioned or to prove I was a youth worker, and less about the facts of what was done. Why? Because I was afraid: of the youth, of another escalated situation I couldn’t handle, and for my job.

I bring this up not because I am a bad youth worker (although they say that those who can’t do, teach or lead!), or to indicate that this business is scary. My point here is that, back in the day, we often operated and communicated out of fear. Sometimes it was the fear of the unknown, sometimes it was the fear of action, sometimes it was the fear of our careers. Policies and procedures were reactive written laws in the homes; however, they didn’t allow for the many grey scenerios that came up. This led to a need for someone else to tell us what to do, how to act, what is expected. This fear and this structure meant that proactive problem-solving and proactive innovations were not heard or utilized.

As I grew older and moved up the systemic hierarchy to have positions of decision making, responsibility, and leadership, I realized that the system was structured in a way that protected youth rights but also agency liabilities. There was very little support or engagement with the frontline staff and there was nothing close to interactive feedback on changes or ideas. Youth workers were almost dispensable and expected to follow along. It was a difficult time because it tied the hands of the workers who were directly trying to impact the lives of youth and it made this human process very bureaucratic. Burn out, lack of change or impact with the youth, and even staff turn over were the biggest frustrations in the system. We didn’t talk about the reasons why a youth was in service—we spoke of their behaviours and escalations. We didn’t talk about family relations, unless specifically designated to family reunification. We had strict goals for the youth, dictated by the government or guardians, that the youth had to comply with but didn’t get a voice in. Staff were injured and held accountable for serious ethical violations, without any support or understanding or compassion.

The biggest evolution I have seen is that there is a collective understanding that our system needed to evolve and change. We couldn’t keep operating out of fear of the youth and their history, we had to look at them as wholistic human beings who were hurt. Agencies started to understand that they needed to support their staff and look at their skills and capacities with intention and purpose. Engagement at all levels became important; youth, staff, and leaders all had perspectives and they all needed to be heard in order to form a policy. There was a shift in how we educate our staff, understanding that we need more than book knowledge to develop into youth workers; onsite placements increased in availability and length of time. Access to practicing skills, with support, became necessary for our youth workers. Trainings became more than a task that was checked off for accreditation; it became necessary to evolve and grow our capacities and update our knowledge and practice of tools to help.

We also started to hear and understand the word trauma and research into the brain science behind trauma and youth development became necessary. Science was telling us about the healthy trajectory of youth and comparing it to the developmental trajectory of youth who experienced trauma, and this opened up the scope of understanding the youth’s behaviours and escalations. It wasn’t willful disobedience that we needed to fear. There were needs not being met, survival skills protecting against more trauma, and developmental delays that require different approaches. We also started seeing the youth as individual humans with complex needs and goals. The language in the group homes and the policies and the history of the youth all changed to be more trauma-focused and including more context and humanity. The youth were no longer dangerous, scary, and evil people—they were scared, traumatized, and hurt kids who were locked in a survival mode.

Understanding this meant that we focused, as a system, on building relationships with the youth. Letting them tell their own stories and experiences, building up trust that we would handle them with care and grow their hope or potential. Youth workers started to get benefits and access to wellness supports that made it so they didn’t have to take on more trauma from this job. And our storytelling became more human and solution or growth-focused, rather than based on fear. Staff at all levels understood that feedback was important and necessary to be more effective and efficient with any policy changes. Agencies became teams and youth started to see more success as agencies and families truly collaborated around them.

The best part is that with the system changing and collaborating, we got excited to educate the community. We wanted their help; we were not longer adversaries. Our system staff understood that the community needed to be part of the solutions and part of the discussions and part of the knowledge. We can’t do this alone and the community can’t support if they aren’t walked beside as well. There’s a pride and excitement in engaging the community members and partners into collaborating and supporting the youth and it creates an entire city of growth and care.

The ultimate outcome of all this evolution is that the youth journey became healthier and more supported. In the past, youth were names and behaviours, shuffled and moved around according to agency needs, staff fears/narratives, or funding expectations. They were traumatized over and over by broken relationships and lack of trust; trust in themselves, the workers, and the systems. Goals were not met or if they were, it wasn’t genuine. Loss and grief for youth and staff were real and stereotypes were large and loud for our youth. With all these changes, the youth are now humans and their journey is one of understanding and empathy and compassion. We are youth-focused, not staff or agency-focused and this means the image of the youth changes. We are protective of their stories and their narratives across systems, within communities and amongst agencies. The youth journey is collaborative and at their pace because we recognize their voice and their knowledge and their pain. We acknowledge that these are their lives and we are here to fully support what they need, when they need it, however they need it. There is no fear or judgement anymore, only compassion and desire for growth and success. The stigma around youth behaviours is changing and the stigma around family involvement is changing and moving into more trauma-informed discussions. We know, now, that hurt humans hurt humans. We know that healing is dependant on relationship building and we know that the stakes are high. We are committed to a collective belief that we want to do this work, we need to do this work, and we can only do it when we grow and evolve together.

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Meet the YESS Kitchen Team!

Our kitchen team works hard to make sure our youth have access to nutritious meals in our programs. Over the past year, they provided over 70,000 meals! This is not only important for physical health for our youth, but also helps to create trust and build relationships with them, creating an environment where they feel safe to embark on their journey towards healing.

Like all of our teams, the kitchen team has had to adjust the way they work these past 18 months. We talked to Ryan Little and Reddy Manikyala about how their team has worked together to continue to do their important work.

What does it mean to nourish youth at YESS?

For us as a kitchen team, to nourish youth means we are potentially giving them a hot meal they would otherwise not necessarily have received. We want to be able to broaden their culinary tastes through a range of foods from various cultural backgrounds within the confines of what has been donated and what we have purchased.

What nourishes you, as a team?

The kitchen team gets our nourishment from knowing that our hard work creating meals is filling the bellies of our youth. The rewards of knowing the youth have tried something new and are happier without an empty stomach nourishes our hearts and minds.

What tips or ideas can you provide for community members who want to nourish their families, or organizations like ours?

We would encourage our community members to try and expand their culinary minds! Try that new restaurant down the street. Eat that meal you have never eaten. Make the recipe you have never made before. Don’t be afraid to play around with flavours. Share your new experiences with others. Take the time to volunteer or donate to organizations like ours. There is no harm in trying something new.

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

Our youth are very culinarily adventurous, and they have suggested meals that we have never had the chance to make before, expanding our own culinary minds. As we want to show them our favourites, they as well challenge us to try new styles of cooking and experiment with different flavours.

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Team Highlight: Facilities

Team Highlight: Facilities

Our Facilities team is essential to the functioning of YESS Programs. Through their hard work, our spaces and buildings are kept clean, safe, and maintained. We talked to Darin Maxwell, Operations Manager, about his team and the impact they create every day.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at YESS!

For the past 25 years my career has been in Information Technologies supporting educational organizations, initially with K-12 learning and then with training in the Oil & Gas sector. In April of 2020 my position, which I had held for 14 years, was eliminated due to restructuring during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was this event that opened up the opportunity for me to bring my organization and team building skills to YESS in the role of Operations Manager: a completely new career path with the rewarding opportunity of supporting vulnerable youth within the community in which I was born and raised.

What are some of the responsibilities of the Facilities team?

The facilities team maintains, cleans, and cares for YESS’s properties. 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, all while minimizing their exposure amidst a global pandemic.

How does the work the Facilities team does contribute to the YESS mission to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration?

My team’s work provides the physical elements our city’s most vulnerable youth need in order to bring their best selves forward into our programs. We provide the resources for them to continue their journey towards healing and appropriate community integration rested, clean, and fed.

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

How quickly they respond with the delight and enthusiasm of kids everywhere when provided with secure, safe spaces in which to heal and grow.

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