Life at YESS

Winter Giving 101

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

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

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

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

Gently used items will generally go directly into our donation rooms for the youth to access right away. It is very helpful if clothing is donated washed and folded, in a recycling bag or box that is clearly marked “washed”. New items, like clothing with tags still on, will generally be put away for use at Christmas gifts. If you are donating both, you could separate them for us and mark the new items a “Christmas gifts”.  We do not give used items as Christmas gifts, with the exception of electronics.

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

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

Winter Giving 101 list

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

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

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Letter from the ED – Fall 2018

Homeless=Hurt

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

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

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

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

We are #healingtogether.

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Letter from the ED – Summer 2018

It’s summertime!

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

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

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

Have a wonderful summer,

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Letter from the ED

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

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

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

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

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

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

YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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Art for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gifts In Kind: Where Do Your Donations End Up?

Giving back is simple. It starts with a decision to just lend a helping hand to someone in need.

Maybe you saw a story on the news saying that a local charity was low on food donations so you started collecting cans of soup from family and friends to help restock the shelves. Or maybe you finally outgrew a beloved, comfy hoodie and you just wanted to pass it along to keep someone else warm.  Whatever your reason for taking the step to donate, we’re really glad you did!

Here at YESS, the two most common types of donations we are gifted with are what we call “monetary donations” and “in kind donations.” Monetary donations are just that –  donations in the form of cash, cheque, or an online process. In kind items, on the other hand, are donations of tangible goods – like food, clothing, toiletries, or gifts for the kids to enjoy, like a video game.

So what exactly happens to these donations after they are dropped off at YESS?

The process begins with our facilities team. They carefully sort all of the items, going through boxes of food, bags of donations, and trunks full of stuff. Our facilities team sees everything from boxes of socks and deodorant, to strange items like cans of paint and leg braces.

Things like toothbrushes, deodorant, makeup, personal hygiene products, razors, soap, and clothing make their way to our donation room. Many kids come to us with only the clothes on their backs.  These kids will visit the donation room and carefully flip through hangers of donated clothing.  Some will need an entire set of clean clothes, others may just need a dressy shirt for a job interview.

Food donations are sorted by our kitchen team, who decide what items need to be used right away and what can go in the fridge or freezer and added to the menu later in the week. Food is then transported to one of our three buildings – our Whyte Avenue building, which houses our Nexus Emergency Shelter and Graham’s Place; the Armoury Resource Centre, where our daytime programming takes place; or to Shanoa’s place, our residential home in west Edmonton. Things like cereal, soup, pasta, canned meat, jams, crackers, granola bars, sauces, and other snacks end up on our pantry shelves. Perishable items like milk and meat end up in one of our oversized fridges or freezers.

And what exactly happened to that can of chicken soup you dropped off?

It was warmed up and placed in the ice cold hands of a youth who had nothing but tattered mittens to wear on the harsh winter streets, and with it came nourishment, comfort, and strength.

You can be assured that every donation, big and small, is loved and appreciated at YESS.

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