Life at YESS

A New Direction

Our new focus is on addressing the holistic wellbeing of young people and a collaborative process amongst agencies to ensure young people get the help they need, when they need it, and where they need it.

The structure of our Youth Support Centre is programming that provides 24/7 help and a safe place to sleep for youth ages 15–21, as well as a daytime resource and health hub for youth 15–24.

We recognize that our expertise is in providing 24/7 help (intake, triage, stabilization, connections, and safe spaces to sleep) as well as holistic wellbeing assessments and outcomes evaluations frameworks.

Since 1981, YESS has been evolving in how we understand and improve our support of youth.

In 2017, we identified that untreated trauma is a major causal barrier in youth success and wellbeing. In previous youth support strategies, the focus has been on providing solutions to address symptoms and not enough on addressing the root cause of their difficulties: family and community breakdown and the untreated trauma in young people as a result. Over the last seven years, we re-positioned our organization to focus on understanding trauma and supporting youth on their healing journeys, resulting in better outcomes for youth. These changes include:

  • Building an in-house Wellness Integration Team of psychologists and support practitioners to provide trauma-informed youth crisis stabilization and mental health education, to support front-line youth workers in crisis support and post-crisis healing, as well as programming and connections to cultural, identity, and spiritual supports for youth.
  • Co-founding the Youth Agency Collaboration and helping to bring together more than 30 youth serving agencies (and growing) to create a connected and collaborative strategy for youth wellbeing and prevention of further chronic symptoms such as homelessness, addiction, and criminal involvement.
  • Transitioning to a 24/7 intake centre for youth because crisis can happen anytime, and youth need a place to stabilize and sleep during the day.
  • Consolidating our resource hub, medical clinic, and shelter within a single location to make it easier for youth to have access to programs, services, and supports.

In March 2023, we completed our 2018–2023 5-Year Strategic Plan and have spent this past year understanding our expertise and value in the sector, as well as what is needed most in our community.

The work we have done in listening to youth and youth workers has led us to make some very big changes in our philosophy, programming, and strategic direction for the future.

 

VISION AND MISSION

Vision

A more connected, holistic, and lower-barrier system for youth in crisis.

 

Mission

Ensure 27/4 access, safe sleeping, and compassionate holistic support within a network of care to ensure youth get the expert help they need, when they need it, and where they need it.

 

What are barriers?

Barriers are realities such as time and distance, expectations, and even policies that put resources out of reach of those who need them. These restrictions often prevent people from seeking help.

What is trauma?

Trauma means any form of abuse, neglect, abandonment, violent, or unexpected experience that has a lasting negative impact on the physical, emotional, or development wellbeing of an individual. Among many serious effects, untreated trauma can have long term impact on the ability to form healthy relationships.

What is holistic wellbeing?

Holistic supports look at the whole experience of being: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual/cultural needs. Physical wellbeing includes stability of living condition, basic needs such as food and clothing, substance use and impact, mental health and self-care, and access to healthcare. Emotional wellbeing includes emotional and behavioural health and social skills. Mental wellbeing includes self-worth, setting goals, and embodying healthy resilience. Spiritual/cultural wellbeing includes participation in creation activities, connection to community, family, identity, language, and peers, and connection to culture, faith, and history.

Holistic assessments are shared across Youth Agency Collaboration organizations so we can offer a consistent continuum of care for youth.

What is collaboration?

Collaboration means working together with other organizations and in line with local, provincial, and national plans to create a holistic approach to addressing homelessness. Experience with youth who are in crisis means bringing their unique needs and specialized solutions to conversations and strategies about this population.

 

THE YOUTH AGENCY COLLABORATION

The Youth Agency Collaboration sees a future where young people in Edmonton can have a future of their choosing by having a solid, holistic foundation to build upon. Our collaboration prides itself on having strong diversity in terms of being intercultural, inclusive of 2SLGBTQIA+ young people, including youth serving organizations which work in preventative and crisis services, and working with Indigenous partners to include ceremony as a foundational component of our ongoing process.

The Youth Agency Collaboration was formed in 2018 for youth-serving agencies to collaborate and share experiences, information, and ideas to improve outcomes for youth.

Today, YESS and more than 30 youth-serving agencies across Edmonton are part of the Youth Agency Collaboration, working together to address the barriers that youth face with regards to safer spaces, trained help, holistic wellbeing support, and transitional housing that are all accessible 24/7, and in the communities where they live.

The new structure of YESS’ Youth Support Centre is a key component of the Youth Agency Collaboration, offering 24/7 intake, crisis stabilization, and safe sleeping for youth ages 15-21, as well as daytime access to drop-in medical and mental health services, housing connections, and other resources for youth up to age 24. YESS’ Youth Support Centre programs also support entry into the Youth Agency Collaboration continuum of complex care, should it be required.

 

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April Message from Margo

We are entering an era of change at YESS as we come out of winter, out of some of the most intense realities of the pandemic, and after integrating the learnings of our 2018-2023 Strategic Plan and our work within the Youth Agency Collaboration.

Throughout our 43 years, YESS has embraced the spirit of evolution and continuous improvement to be able to provide youth with the help they need when they need it and where they need it. We have transformed from an overnight emergency shelter to being a collaborative partner in a community of youth care leveraging more than 30 youth agencies. 

In 2018, we created an in-house trauma and mental health support program with our Wellness Integration team of psychologists and support practitioners. In 2021, YESS restructured our overnight shelter program to 24/7 access. In 2023, we moved our daytime primary medical care clinic, navigation staff, and resources from the Armoury Resource Centre to our Whyte Ave building to share space with our 24/7 crisis intervention and stabilization program and reduce barriers to access for youth. 

And now, as of spring 2024, we will be focusing entirely on our new 24/7 intake and assessment programming to use our expertise in what we see in the urgent need for crisis support. Because of this focus on what we do best and our consolidation of 24/7 help and safe sleeping with our resource and health supports, we are closing our Shanoa’s Place supportive housing location as of April 1, 2024, and will return the Connaught Armoury location to the City of Edmonton later this year. 

None of these changes are a result of organizational emergencies, but rather a direct move towards a more strategic and intentional component of the larger Youth Agency Collaboration strategy for youth in crisis in our city and province. We have had these changes in mind for a long time and now, with a developed strategy and validating evidence, we are now in a place to make them a reality. 

One thing that has stayed constant over these 43 years is the impact of our community of support. Thank you so much for continuing to advocate for youth!

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Changes at YESS

YESS has been diligently working towards a new mission and vision for young people, aiming to create an environment where all young people have barrier-free access to the help they need when they need it and where they need it. Over the past seven years, we have engaged in extensive research and discussions with both youth and youth workers to better understand the needs and gaps in our system.

As part of the Youth Agency Collaboration—a group of more —we have co-developed a comprehensive strategy that not only addresses the needs of youth but also fills the gaps in our current system, paving the way for holistic wellness and measurable outcomes around life skills and wellbeing skills, rather than simply providing a list of services. A key component of this strategy is the establishment of community-based Youth Support Centres, which will offer 24/7 intake, crisis stabilization, and safe sleeping for youth 15-21, as well as daytime access to drop-in medical and mental health services, housing connections, and other resources for youth up to the age of 24. Our programs also support entry into the Youth Agency Collaboration continuum of complex care, should it be required. We will have more information about these centres and how they will support both young people and families in their communities in our May newsletter.

In alignment with our new strategic focus and commitment to excellence, we have made the decision to concentrate our efforts on what we do best. Consequently, we will be closing our supportive home program, Shanoa’s Place, shifting away from housing, and entrusting our expert partners in the Youth Agency Collaboration to continue their outstanding work in this area. We will also be moving out of the Connaught Armoury permanently, so all YESS programming will be located at our Whyte Ave building as the first YESS Youth Support Centre.

To facilitate this transition, we ceased accepting new youth for housing at Shanoa’s Place as of mid-February, with the goal of transitioning all current residents to one of our housing partners by March 31, 2024. All full-time and part-time Programs employees currently stationed at Shanoa’s Place were offered roles at our Whyte Ave location, where all YESS Programs and Facilities team members will be based starting April 1, 2024.

Additionally, after careful consideration and analysis, we have decided to return the Connaught Armoury Building (ARC) to the City of Edmonton. The ARC location, the historic space for our drop-in resource services, is not ideal for our evolving needs and is extremely costly to maintain. We believe that co-locating the Resource and Health Hub and 24/7 Help Centre into the Youth Support Centre is paramount for better efficiency and service delivery. This decision will allow us to refocus our efforts on rebuilding Whyte Ave or finding a new location for our center.

Both the closure of Shanoa’s Place and the decision regarding the ARC have always been part of our medium-term plan. We have collaborated extensively with agencies in the Youth Agency Collaboration, particularly those specializing in housing, and we firmly believe that this direction will ultimately result in improved care for the youth we serve.

We understand that change can be challenging, but we also know that the dedication of our teams across all our departments will continue to support youth with the help they need when they need it and where they need it.

Visit YESS.org/changes-at-yess to learn more!

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The Impact of Monthly Giving

Did you know that up to 75% of the YESS annual operating budget is provided for through donations like yours? This month, we talked to Eddie Gots, Chief Financial Officer at YESS, about the impact of community support and opportunities like monthly giving, and how that provides not only funding but also a sense of stability and consistency for youth and staff.

 

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

I’m the Chief Financial Officer here at YESS. I wear a lot of hats, working with Finance, Fund Development, and Marketing and Communications teams. But the way I would describe my role is I lead teams that do the behind-the-scenes work—or the work that you would see not related with working with youth in crisis—in order to provide stability and the ability and assurances for the teams doing that really difficult frontline work. That means that our Programs and Facilities teams have the confidence that they will have access to the tools and the funding that they need to do their work, and they will get the support and the awareness needed as well.

What makes monthly giving such an impactful way to support YESS?

Monthly giving gives us a sense of security and predictability. Funding from donors and community-based partners are amazing in how they support what we do and how we do it and what we can do. But what it doesn’t come with is a guarantee that someone is going to give money every time at the same time every year. And it makes it hard for us to then forecast and predict the way that we need to spend money, against how or when the money is going to come in.

Becoming a monthly donor gives us a sense of security so that we know we’re going to get that $20 every month. And then we know that this $20 cost that’s going to happen every month is going to be sustained by this $20 donation. It really takes the guesswork out of running the operations and having an idea or predicting what we will have to be able to spend so that we can be fiscally responsible, and not overspend or underspend at any given point in time. It gives us a security blanket of something that we can rely on.

How important is community support when it comes to YESS programs and 24/7 access?

To me, this takes me back to the topic of my role, doing the background work at YESS and providing that sense of sustainability and stability for the staff. The work that our teams do 24/7 in the community with youth has a lot of instability. And it’s not predictable. You can’t predict that crisis going to happen every day at 3PM or 5PM or 2AM, or on Saturday or Monday or Wednesday. It’s very unpredictable, and so what support like monthly giving does is create a security blanket that gives us an element of control, so that we can manage when the unpredictable happens.

By building in that sense of ownership and giving that type of empowerment to the staff to know that they’re going to have funds and resources available to be able to tackle things that are ever-changing gives them the ability to pivot as needed, without needing to wait for the bureaucracy, or needing to send something up the chain, or not being able to make the decision because they’re unsure of when something’s going to happen. They know what they have. They can use what they have to be able to make decisions rapidly and quickly in the best interests for youth.

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

That’s always a hard one to answer. There are lots of things that I want people to know. And it also changes depending on sometimes the day, sometimes the year, sometimes the person I’m talking to.

One thing I think I want people to know about youth who access YESS is that they are our future. When we move forward in life, and we get to positions where we might not be able to take care of ourselves, this generation is who we’re going to expect to be able to rely upon. It’s important to recognize that they’re the generation that is going to succeed us, they’re going to carry on our legacies or help us in those times of need when we can’t help ourselves any further. They deserve to have caring in that kindness now, if we’re going to expect it from them when we need it.

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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.

 

WHEN AND WHERE

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.

 

Dates:

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

 

Thursday, December 14, open until 7PM

Saturday, December 16, 12PM-4PM

Thursday, December 21, open until 7PM

 

 

DONATING GENERAL WINTER ITEMS

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.

 

DONATING CHRISTMAS GIFTS

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.

 

Backpacks

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.

 

DONATING FOOD

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 kitchens@yess.org 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 giving@yess.org.

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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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