Life at YESS

Major TLC for the YESS Kitchen

In December our Whyte Ave kitchen underwent a major renovation. This kitchen is instrumental in providing nutritious meals for the hundreds of youth who access YESS every year across our overnight shelter, daytime resource centre, and supportive housing programs. Providing meals is a huge part of our trauma informed care practice and is an important aspect of creating an environment of felt safety for the traumatized youth in our programs. This renovation was made possible with a grant from The Home Depot Foundation, who are committed to supporting initiatives that prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada, and an amazing donations from our friends at the Community of Christ Church.

“This is a great expensive gift for Christmas!” says YESS Chef Reddy Manikyala. “Along with the new kitchen team members, our kitchen is now running smoothly and able to make all new creations. The kitchen looks 100% commercial now compared to the old one. We also got a new grill and we plan to make good use of it.”

This renovation project was an incredible opportunity for all of the YESS departments to work together to keep the agency organized, across Kitchen and Facilities, Programs, Funds Development, and Administration. We also got to work with incredible collaborators at Allegiance Mechanical Inc., Amalgamated Food Equipment, The Carpet Studio, Interspace Construction, Nordic Mechanical, Tricom Electrical Services, and WHA Industries.

While no renovation is ever easy, the hard work has already paid off as the Whyte Ave kitchen takes on another role in the lives of youth: classroom. YESS Chef Tiffany Sorensen is our Program Kitchen Coordinator and leads the culinary practicum for youth in the Youth Education and Employment Program.

“The new kitchen renovations have made a world of a difference not only for us as chefs, but also for the student chefs that are part of the Youth Education and Employment Program,” says Tiffany. “The youth in the placement can now learn out of a more professional work space, and with the new equipment we have more options to cook and teach on. Youth are able to learn a variety of cooking techniques and can receive hands on training with using commercial equipment like the grill, griddle, steamer, and gas stove. The renovations are really helping to give the youth a more realistic experience with a variety of skills and will set them up for success to work in future kitchens and/or restaurants.”

As Reddy said, this renovation was an amazing Christmas gift that will be an incredible asset to our youth and our programs for years to come. We have found that cooking and sharing meals has always created an incredible sense of community, and it means so much to grow that community with all the partners who made this renovation possible!


A HUGE thank you to these restaurants who provided breakfast and lunch for youth in our programs while our kitchen was being renovated!

Meals are a huge part of creating felt safety for our youth and it meant so much to us to see so many restaurants step forward to help!

A&W

Barb & Ernie’s Old Country Inn

Boston Pizza

De Dutch

El Cortez

High Level Diner

McDonald’s

Oodle Noodle

Original Joe’s

The Parlour

Popeyes

Subway

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Meet the Youth Education and Employment Team

In 2019, YESS launched the Youth Education and Employment Program, a 12-week program that focuses on job readiness skills like cover letter writing and interview skills, workshops for job-specific trainings, and practicum opportunities to help youth identify their career goals. While youth learn work skills, staff provide support and a range of other services to help youth achieve and maintain employment.

This new program is spearheaded by Amanda Van Huenen and Melissa Johnson. Amanda has been a youth worker for eight years and started at YESS in 2018 as a youth worker. Melissa started at YESS in 2015 as a resource worker soon after graduating with her Social Work Diploma. While education and employment have always been part of the focus for youth at YESS, Amanda and Melissa have developed a program that provides intentional career and job training and support all within YESS, so youth don’t have to search out other programs to access these opportunities. This has helped remove barriers for youth who need wraparound support to heal from their trauma and start setting goals for the future.

We sat down with Amanda and Melissa to talk about their experiences in facilitating the first 12-week group of the Youth Education and Employment Program.

Describe the new Youth Education and Employment Program and what it provides for youth.

MJ: The program is 12 weeks. We’re going to do four rounds of it, 16 youth per round. The youth get different tickets, they do different job shadows, they get eight weeks of practicum experience they can put on their resumes, and then we support them move into whatever their goals are, whether that’s education or employment. We help remove barriers to things like work clothes, bus tickets. We’ll provide them with transportation if they need it. All those things that they might not otherwise be able to get on their own. The program has all the support and we’re here all the time if they need anything. We’ve seen a lot of growth already.

AVH: I noticed when I started that there was a gap between youth keeping a job and the skills they need. It was easy to find a job, but a month later they were back at the office saying, “I need to find a new job” or “I need twenty resumes” or things like that. I noticed that gap and I wanted to develop a program that was taking away all those barriers they were facing and give them those tools and the experience of what it is like to be out there working.

[The youth] are getting paid for the twelve weeks. That’s one of the biggest things. It’s helping the youth to start saving or getting housing or finally buying that cell phone that they need to feel safe, so they can make a phone call if something happens. It helps our work in being harm reductive because they don’t have to steal stuff so they can have a sandwich or something. Or maybe they have an addiction and they had to do sketchy stuff for that and now they don’t because now they can provide for it. In a harm reductive way, this program is helping with that.

What are the shadow shift opportunities available?

MJ: We’re trying to have a bank of opportunities to have in a variety of industries based on what the youth are interested in. We want the youth to get into things they enjoy. Landscaping, carpentry, restaurants and kitchens, retail, construction. Those are the big ones.

AVH: Some of our youth are interested in careers, but most of them are looking for entry-level positions.

MJ: The practicums are great in that way. You see youth who think they’re interested in something and then they do the practicum and it’s not really for them. They realize more about themselves.

AVH: We have those conversations with them. We tell them that it’s okay to not know what they want to do. Some of them are very young, fifteen, sixteen. So it’s okay to explore those things. It’s very good for the youth who don’t have a healthy family situation or people who have no home or safety that they can explore these things. It’s very good to have that freedom to do that and not be judged for it. They already get judged for so many other things, right? So to give them that opportunity is good for most of them.

The YESS mission is to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. How do you think the Youth Education and Employment Program is part of that overall vision?

MJ: We really sit down with the youth and we find out what they want and what their goals are. We could plan out a whole life for them and just say “follow this plan.” But we really sit down with them in an interview process, asking them what they want and what they goals are. We’re pushing them towards those goals and we’re there the whole time for support. We’re checking in with them on their practicums, making sure they’re being accountable. But it’s definitely them who lead the way and we give them the resources and remove the barriers so they can accomplish those. And then there’s the “after” support, helping them transition out and integrate into community, so they meet with a transitions worker, they meet with a navigator. They still need to find jobs, go to school, do their resumes, so there’s still a lot of things to do.

AVH: I don’t think of this as just an employment program. We work with the whole team. Everybody here in support services or the trauma team are part of this program. Everyone is putting their hand in—we’re getting referrals here, we’re going there, we have meetings with others. It’s teamwork. Before employment was just focused on employment, but now we’re working as a team.

We have the youth reflect on themselves, give them control over what they want and what their future looks like. And then we work as a team around that to meet those needs, instead of us making those decisions for them. That’s what I like about this program a lot, is that its one big team working towards that program.

What’s something you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

AVH: Their potential. They’re individually unique. They all have something to give. I think a lot of times people see this population as failures, trouble, problems, write them off. That whole negative aspect… They’re just youth. They’re kids. They’re young adults suffering from somebody else’s mistake and we don’t need to constantly put this negativity on them.

MJ: All of our youth have potential and they just need the opportunity. This is the start of an opportunity, but then they need community as well. We need to allow them to be hired at jobs, to be mentored, to be given these things. So having compassion and giving them opportunities because they all have potential. We see so many kids who leave us and go on to be successful in the community and we want more people to help them do that.

Is there a particular remarkable experience you’ve had since launching the Youth Education and Employment Program?

MJ: The youth who we’ve had in our services for a long time, like we’ve had kids who have been here for years, and to see them finally working on something, getting jobs, getting trades tickets, working on resumes, and picturing bigger goals for themselves. I think seeing youth doing that makes this all worth it.

AVH: Because the program’s in-house and specific for our population, to have that develop around them. Every child is different, every child learns differently and it’s the same for our youth. And having such a program that’s created around them makes them feel welcome and like they can succeed.

We have 10 youth graduating from group 1! So that’s a success right there.


If your organization is interested in partnering with our Youth Employment and Education Program as a shadow shift or practicum partner, contact us at 780-468-7070. These opportunities to gain job experience and have a positive, supportive community are a huge part of the healing journey for our youth.

 

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

 

Thank you to the Youth Education and Employment Program group 1 and group 2 partners:

Atlantic Fence

Boston Pizza Whyte Ave

Home Depot

Inland Audio and Visual

MC College

Trinity Youth Project

Waiward Industrial

Walk the Talk

YESS Kitchen

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Letter from Margo – Spring 2020

Hello everyone and Happy Spring!

YESS started 2020 with a very strong financial profile and a lot of excitement about the momentum we are gaining. We spent the winter months taking care of each other, celebrating some of our wins, and continuing to build upon our growing foundation of structure, processes, and trauma-informed practice. We have seen significant successes with the work of our Trauma Support Team (we have delivered over 100 individual therapy sessions and many informal group sessions since April 2019, and we have seen our EPS and crisis calls decrease) and we have been thrilled with the success of our new Youth Education and Employment Program that provides a low-barrier entrance into life, education, and employment skills as well as job shadowing and work experience with corporate community partners. We have also been working hard with our youth agency and homelessness partners to develop and improve our city strategy for the prevention of youth homelessness. In the coming year, we will begin initial planning around evolving YESS to fit within a municipal and provincial strategy for the prevention of youth homelessness. Prevention can be both early prevention (ensuring a young person never becomes homeless) and later prevention (ensuring a young person doesn’t become further entrenched in homelessness). At YESS, we are focused on late prevention—ensuring that the youth who visit us have the connections back to family or safe housing situations as well as life skills, emotional regulation, relationship building, and  trauma healing support to help them safely and appropriately integrate into community.

As the sun shines and the new shoots and bulbs grow outside, we are furiously growing our capacity and our knowledge to prepare for the big work ahead of us.

This spring, I invite you to join us in our excitement about the future—celebrating is much more fun together!

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Meet the YESS Trauma Care Team

In 2018, we updated our vision to focus on walking beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing. In 2019, that vision came closer into focus with the introduction of our own internal Trauma Care Team and we want to introduce you to the incredible folks doing the work of helping our youth heal.

Marcia East has a Master’s in Counselling and Social Work and worked with children, youth, and parents for 12 years in Jamaica. When she moved to Canada in 2015, she started working at YESS in our transitional housing program. In her newest role as part of the Trauma Care Team, Marcia facilitates group and family support sessions.

Bethany Zelent has a Master’s of Counselling and Psychology. For the past four years she has worked as an addictions counsellor and she also has experience working with vulnerable populations and people transitioning out of homelessness. Bethany facilitates individual therapy sessions.

Bethany, you were totally new to the YESS team when you started a few months ago. What brought you to YESS?

After working for so long in addictions it was really inspiring to see people reclaim their life after sometimes twenty, thirty years struggling with addiction, but it was also a little disheartening that people had lost so much of their lives to addiction. I wanted to focus more on prevention, working with people in the early stages because I saw with the women I was working with if they had had intervention in and around the time when the addiction started that they could have been saved a lot of pain. So that was a huge motivation for me to focus more on kids and youth. Also seeing the limbo that youth are in in terms of accessing services. A lot of times they are either too young for services or not bad enough—there’s this weird line where you have to have a certain number of struggles but not so bad that you’re outside an agency’s scope of practice.

How do you feel your work contributes to the YESS vision of walking beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing?

BZ: That, to me, is the pinnacle of what we do. I think one of the key words in there for me is “beside,” that we’re not behind, we’re not in front of, and that goes along with our own therapeutic model that the client is the expert in their own life.

ME: Being an ally to youth is a significant part of my own vision in working with people from difficult realities. It is of utmost importance to remember that the population I work with have experiences which are rooted in trauma and, therefore, their behaviours will reflect that truth. I am cognizant of the space that I create for them – one that will facilitate safety and care and encourage movement towards finding the true self.

BZ: There are symptomologies of their traumatized experiences. And that’s what we really target: that trauma is the problem, behaviour is not. Behaviour is a symptom of the trauma. We can do behavioural techniques all day long and they might work on the outside, but there won’t be lasting change because the tree is still rotten. The foundation of it is still trauma. Trauma finds really creative ways to express itself in all sorts of ways.

Marcia, in your role in leading and facilitating group sessions, how have you seen the program evolve over the last few months?

ME: Initially, it was very slow in starting. Now it is becoming a little more stable as group sessions are being offered in the residential programs and youth are warming up to the idea.

Bethany, how have you seen your side of the trauma program—individual counselling—evolve since it started?

BZ: I think there was a healthy level of skepticism from youth at the beginning. The youth have so many reasons not to trust me and I view that as my role, that I have to prove myself as trustworthy. Since we first started there has been a huge level of acceptance from the youth and the staff working together in that. The youth see going to therapy as a viable option for them; they don’t see it as something they have to go somewhere else for. It has become much more normalized, just like going to the doctor is here, just like getting their ID, just like going to the employment program, it’s a very normal thing. One of the best things with therapy, and this is outside of YESS as well, is word-of-mouth advertising. It’s very powerful. I notice that when a few youth would come, more youth would be interested. That is something that’s really important too is for them to be able to say, “I see a change in my friend. I would like that change as well.” I think there’s more openness to taking down the stigma for mental health as well, being able to ask for the help they need, and our regular presence here helps them know that we’re the trauma team.

What’s something you wish the community knew about YESS youth?

BZ: I think one of the biggest things is to remind them that they are youth. That a lot of the behavioural expressions we see are really, really normal for an adolescent to do. It is very normal. Oftentimes because [YESS youth] are in a position of being independent, we kind of project adult expectations onto them, but they physiologically don’t have the brain development to be able to meet those expectations because they are teenagers. A lot of the behavioural expressions that we see like substance use, like stealing—those are all very normal for any adolescent across any socioeconomic status and we cannot hold youth to a higher standard than what their brain can occupy. We certainly can’t hold traumatized individuals to a standard that is higher than what they can actively do and we can’t hold traumatized youth to a standard that’s beyond what their capacity is. I think that’s what I would focus the most on is that they’re still adolescents.

ME: Also that our youth are not “choosing” to remain in difficult situations. They are being impacted by the traumas of their past and they are doing their best to cope with these realities, and are struggling to be resilient despite their history.

Is there a particular remarkable experience you’ve have at YESS?

ME: My most recent remarkable experience comes from working with a youth who struggles with anger issues. I am encouraged by his determination to summon his inner resources for the work he is doing.  I am also inspired by the effort and energy he is investing and note how the successes he experiences serve to build his self-efficacy and to further strengthen his resolve.

BZ: In starting therapy I usually ask the client how they feel and then I ask them again at the end so we can track if there’s a change and how our process is going. I started one session with a client who said he felt suffocated from anxiety. He indicated that there was a lot of tension in his chest. We ended up having a two and a half hour session and at the end he said that was the most relaxed he had ever been in his entire life and that he had this feeling of calm where there had been tension. I don’t take any credit for that whatsoever. I think that’s primarily his own work. It is really cool to be a witness to people’s journeys and processes. That he was able to sit with himself for those two and a half hours and attend to himself and be present in a way that he is normally trying to escape. That is amazing.


Thank you so much to all of the community members, donors, and partners who have joined us as we walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing. As you can see, bringing a focus to trauma and building a Trauma Care Team has had a huge and positive impact on our youth and we are excited to see how these programs continues to support and empower youth who have experienced trauma.

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Letter from Margo – Winter 2019

Good winter, everyone,

As I age and move through the cold months with more focus on my discomfort, I realize I have lost my childhood joy of the gifts of winter: the snow, the bright sun, the quiet contemplation, and the wrapping of ourselves in warm comfort.  We say good evening, as we greet our fellow humans in the glow of the moonlight, intentionally appreciating the gifts of the night and acknowledging the blanket of comfort and renewal that it can bring. And so, I am choosing now to acknowledge the gifts and the joy of winter with an intentional greeting of good winter and a smile.

I have spent weeks thinking about what to write about for this edition. These letters are important to me. They help me remember what to focus on. What do I need to say? What is it time for? 

And I have been lost. 

I have been lost for a while now. 

I have been lost in the intense mission of this powerful yet delicate organization. I have been lost in the frustration and anger of a system and community that is so unfairly balanced. I have been lost in the pain of the young people I see hurting everyday: lost in their deaths, their abandonment, and their disappearances. I have been lost in the pain of a staff that is exhausted and hurt and yet still so dedicated to a solution. I have been lost in my own pain in experiencing this, and the pain of my family, both as they navigate their own lives and as they experience my pain with me. 

I chose to move into the not for profit space because my heart hurt—I needed passion and purpose (and boy did I find it). 

But I left something behind: joy. 

And I realized this week, I didn’t lose joy. 

I left it. 

I refused it. 

I let myself feel the deep hurt of our young people, of our parents and families, of the staff, of my fellow CEOs and EDs, of communities, and of my own family. But I did not let myself experience joy. How could I when there is so much suffering, when there is so much work to be done?

My intention was true—I wanted to help. But I became so lost in the trauma that I forgot what brings us out.

The opposite of trauma, in my perspective, is joy. Laughter, dance, sunshine, sport, art, music, math—whatever lights you up. Joy is vulnerable and open. It lets the light in to heal and detoxify. It is not a state that we achieve only when we are done feeling our trauma, it is something we choose to allow so that we can heal, a little bit at a time. 

In my own denial of joy, I realize that I have denied others the experience and leadership of my joy. My joy is powerful and contagious. Our joy is a gift to ourselves and others. As much as we need bearing witness of our painful stories, our collective experiences of joy can heal us all.

And so, what is it time for at YESS? It is time for a little bit of joy. We have come a long way in 2 1/2 years. We have emerged out of some very hard times and while I know there are more ahead of us, it is time to celebrate and be vulnerable in our joy. 

This good winter, I wish that you give yourselves the permission to feel JOY and celebrate the good things with us, with your loved ones, with your community. 

Together, we can heal, a little bit at a time. 

 

With my own love and joy,

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

 

(header photo by Leroy Schulz)

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Winter Warming

In the winter months our Armoury Resource Centre operates on extended hours to provide a safe and warm place for youth who might otherwise have to risk the elements outside. We work with other vulnerable youth supporting agencies to determine these hours so that between us we are always providing youth with a safe place and also taking care of frontline youth workers to prevent burnout.

Armoury Resource Centre Winter Hours – effective November 15, 2019 to March 15, 2020:

Monday 9AM-8PM Friday 9AM-2PM, 5PM-8PM
Tuesday 9AM-4PM Saturday 9AM-2PM
Wednesday 9AM-4PM Sunday 9AM-8PM
Thursday 9AM-4PM

For youth who are leaving the Armoury Resource Centre to go to another program, we always strive for a “warm handoff” and allow youth to wait indoors for their pickup rather than off property.

Exposure to winter weather is dangerous for individuals experiencing homelessness. You are part of the community keeping vulnerable people safe this winter season.

Here are some ways our city works together to keep everyone safe in times of extreme cold:

  • if you see someone on the streets who you believe is in distress, call 211 to speak to the 24/7 diversion team
  • additional winter warming sites open throughout the city with extended hours
  • in the event that shelters are at or near capacity and extreme cold (-20 or colder) is in the forecast, LRT stations will open as overnight warming sites
  • in times of extreme cold, ETS vehicles will not deny passengers without tickets

It takes all of us to keep everyone in our community safe and warm in the winter months. It is a good time to remember how much we can all take care of each other.

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This year, YESS was invited to contribute to a special issue of Parity, Australia’s national homelessness publication. In their October issue, Preventing and Sustaining Exits from Youth Homelessness in Canada, there are articles from agencies across Canada including “Changing the Definition of Success” by our own Camiel Friend, Nexus Shelter Team Lead, and Jessica Day, Director of Program Innovations. We are so proud for this opportunity to share the thought leadership of our Programs team in an international publication.

Understanding A Way Home Canada’s National Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness helped us re-evaluate what was needed in order to help our youth successfully reintegrate into communities: YESS and the partners and community around us must provide safety and stability, help build self-worth, help build the tools for resilience, and help to establish a sense of belonging within the community.” 

The article that I wrote with our Director of Program Innovations, Jessica Day, entitled “Changing the Definition of Success” was our way of introducing one of the most imperative aspects of addressing the trauma of our youth:  when we measure progress and outcomes with demographics and stats, we are missing the individualized unique stories of each youth we serve. It was important that we acknowledge the various barriers our youth face in a collective manner and to present this information in a relatable and understanding way to the general population, who may not have experienced these adversities themselves.

These stories are just as important as strategic stats or demographics and, thanks to the National Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness, help to educate communities on what work and support is needed.  As well, we were able to portray how the National Framework can and needs to be applied to local agencies to help increase effective services, broaden the outcomes and stories of the youth served, and help to find a collective language and voice between the national research and our local youth stories. The language used between youth and frontline staff, amongst frontline agencies, from frontline to management and agency management to national coalitions and so on, can be a barrier all on its own. We have the ability to translate this in a way that has a clear guideline and understanding not only to our youth, but also to the people in charge of making important decisions on behalf of our youth.

This reciprocal bridge of communication directly impacts the National Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness and its success, as well as directly impacting the local success of our individual agency. This article was a wonderful opportunity to have in-depth conversations about barriers, about language, about community goals, and most importantly how to support our youth while maintaining youth-focused strategies.

– Camiel Friend, Nexus Team Lead

Read Camiel’s article and other articles from Canadian frontline youth workers at homelesshub.ca.

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Winter Giving 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Giving 101 list

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

You have now graduated Winter Donations 101! Thank you for reading this and taking these ideas into consideration when donating goods this season. We are constantly blown away 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.

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Built to Serve

Learn the storied history of our Whyte Ave Building

The YESS Whyte Ave building is 105 years old this year! Built in 1914, it was intended to be a fire hall with room for two pumper engines, stables for five horses, and quarters for seven men. The fire hall was never used, though, as the First World War broke out and reassigned the men and resources needed to run the fire hall.

Archived black and white photos of Salvation Army personnel outside the brick Whyte Ave building

It wasn’t until 1926 that the building was put to use again. City Council voted to rent the building to the Salvation Army for a dollar a year and it became the Eventide Home for Single Elderly Men with accommodation for 30-40 residents. The Salvation Army ran the building until 1979, completing major expansions and renovations. The building was turned back over to the city, who considered a variety of options including demolishing the existing building to make way for a modern fire hall.

It just so happened that around this same time, a group of concerned individuals—mostly those involved with social work—had started to come together to find a solution for a specific social services problem: until the age of 16, youth came under the jurisdiction of Child Welfare authorities, but would not qualify for social assistance until the age of 18. For youth in crisis and experiencing homelessness aged 16 to 17, resources were non-existent.

To solve this problem, they began to organize resources for youth in need and by 1981 they needed an official space to continue their mission. While there was no property available in the inner city for them, there was an old brick building on Whyte Ave. In order to raise funds to renovate the building and operate a shelter, they formed the Youth Emergency Shelter Society (YESS).

Through generous donations from community individuals and businesses and the hard work of many volunteers, many much-needed repairs and renovations were completed and the Youth Emergency Shelter opened its doors on April 18, 1982. We have been providing shelter and resources for youth in Edmonton ever since.

An old building that sees as much use as our Whyte Ave facility is a constant work in progress—from urgent fixes to beautiful renovations—that is maintained by our incredible Facilities team and the ongoing help of volunteers.

Current photo of brick Whyte Ave buildingSo much has changed even since YESS has occupied this building, most notably the expansion and diversification of programs and resources for youth. YESS now runs three facilities: the overnight shelter and supporting housing Graham’s Place on Whyte Ave, the Armoury Resource Centre for daytime programs, and Shanoa’s Place on the west end. It was this expansion that led us to change our name to Youth Empowerment and Support Services to better reflect the services we are able to offer youth.

One thing has stayed the same. This stalwart brick building has always sought to provide safety in our community, as a fire hall, as the Salvation Army’s Eventide Home, and now as YESS. And from day one, YESS has been a place where the community comes together to create safe, empowering spaces for youth who have experienced crisis and trauma. We know that we are not alone in this and never have been. We are all part of creating a city and a community where we can heal together.

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Letter from Margo – Fall 2019

Hello everyone, and happy Fall.

I have always thought of Fall and Winter as seasons for rest and reflection. It is the time when we can curl up in our warmest clothes, rest, and build up our resilience for the inevitable challenges that come our way.

Resiliency is a theme that runs pervasively through YESS. We teach the youth about resiliency and self care: about regulating their emotions through breathing, moving their bodies and connecting with their minds, calming their central nervous systems, and building a quiver of tools they can use when facing difficulties. Resiliency is the pot of gold we all seek. We work desperately against an invisible clock that can have trauma and challenges at every hour to help youth choose and begin to learn the techniques and thought processes that build self-control, self-regulation, self-confidence, and self-worth. (In other words, the resiliency to begin to understand that all that has happened to them is not their fault, and to face the next challenges in their life capably, and with their own interests and accountability at the forefront.) Resiliency is typically built from strong, positive attachments to parents, good teachers in positive school environments, safe and positive childhood play and interactions, and a safe, inclusive, role-modelling community. When you have not had these things, and been very hurt at an early age, your resiliency can take on a very different face. It can take on the various masks of coping mechanisms designed to comfort, protect, and hide from the harshest realities: the masks of addiction, abuse, violence, and suicide.

 And here is what I have noticed about resiliency after two years at YESS. While our city’s social workers, youth workers, and support staff are working to help the youth build resiliency, they are depleting their own energy stores, and wearing down their own resiliency. Our city’s frontline youth workers are doing some of the most difficult work you can imagine. They are often concurrently parenting, tutoring, counselling, mediating, de-escalating, and even doing CPR and first aid (ON THE YOUTH THEY ARE PARENTING). Can you imagine the trauma of walking your own teenager through a suicide plan and working each day to help them do their homework, struggling maybe with a learning disability, and then having to administer first aid or Naloxone that night? This is the reality of youth workers. This is our reality. And while the winter months can be restful and reflective, they contain the darkest, coldest months and the deep trauma of the holiday season.

Often, organizations simply do not have the funds or the capacity to provide the counselling, extra benefit support, staff overlap, and training that could truly help build a resilient staff. At YESS, we are in a position to recognize that we cannot afford NOT to take care of the resiliency of those who care for our most vulnerable. We, as a society, keep telling each other it takes a village to raise a child, because of the very fact that parents cannot do it all themselves. And now we need to walk that talk. We need to take care of the very parents who are raising our most vulnerable. 

Just as I have asked you to look closer and with empathy at our youth, I ask you now to see those who serve our city in such a deep and meaningful way and who do so without reward, recognition, and often without the help of the systems and the community they operate within. 

They are my heroes. And I am honoured to serve them. Let us care for them so that they may continue this brave work.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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