Volunteer

YESS Volunteers Bring the Joy

The last week of April is National Volunteer Week! Every year, hundreds of volunteer commit thousands of hours to make our work with youth experiencing homelessness possible. They support our Programs staff, our Facilities team, and our administrative departments. They create positive experiences for youth, donors, and staff. We truly could not do our job without them!

For National Volunteer Week, we want to share Rick and Dianne’s story. Rick and Dianne have been making Christmas dinner for our youth since 1999! Every year, they share their time and their love over Christmas with youth who call our shelter home.

Thank you so much to Rick and Dianne, and to all our volunteers–longtime and brand new–who make YESS’ work possible!

Tell us a bit about yourselves!

Well, I’m not really sure where to start. I’m 60 years old and have been married to my wife, Dianne Westwood, for thirty years. That said, our relationship actually started a number of years before that. We both grew up in the same small town in Saskatchewan, then went to Saskatoon for post-secondary education, Dianne at the U of S, and me at technical school. Dianne is my strength and keeps me focused and going straight ahead. We’ve lived in Edmonton since 1986. In our first years of marriage, I was going to engineering school at the U of A, and if not for Dianne’s support and encouragement, I would have never made it through. I’m very proud of Dianne; she has been a manager with MacEwan University’s Centre for the Arts for more than 28 years. I have worked in both government and private industry over the years and presently, I’m am an engineer with the Alberta Energy Regulator. We don’t have any children, but have two small dogs, Pumpkin and Rogue, that keep us occupied. We like to make home-made wine, and we also travel as often as our time allows. Over the years we’ve had great driving trips to the Northwest Territories and Yukon, and visited all of our Canadian provinces. We have been lucky enough to make our way to Europe a few times, and even spent a short time in Africa and Asia.

What inspired you to start volunteering with YESS?

Both Dianne and I have done a bit of volunteering over the years. Before I started studying at the U of A, we spent a few months as volunteers with CUSO in Mozambique. Unfortunately, the war that was going on in the country at the time, which was just after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, intensified in the city we were working in. A car bomb went off early one morning not far from where we were living, and it was recommended we leave. I was able to begin studying at the U of A shortly after our return to Canada, and Dianne spent several months volunteering as an ESL tutor before beginning a new job at the downtown YMCA. Basically, we were familiar with volunteering.

To answer your question, thought, through most of the 1990s, we would invite an elderly neighbour over for Christmas dinner. After she passed away, we resumed travelling to Saskatchewan for Christmas with family. After a couple of years, we decided that we would like to stay in Edmonton for the holidays, but did want to do something helpful somewhere. Dianne contacted YESS as we felt the help they offered for young adults was much needed and very worthwhile. Kids whose circumstances made their lives much tougher than ours deserved something at Christmas; offering to cook Christmas dinner wasn’t much, but it was something we felt we could take on, plus we knew that our help would give the shelter’s cook the opportunity to have the day with his family.

We are a bit unsure of the first year that we volunteered to cook at YESS, but we think it was 1999. We did miss cooking at Christmas in 2002, but haven’t missed any years since then.

If there was one thing you wish the community knew about YESS, what would it be?

I think that many Edmontonians aren’t aware enough of some problems that exist in Edmonton. We hear about the efforts that the City and a number of wonderful supporting agencies are doing to address issues, homelessness and hunger to name a couple, but we don’t hear much about troubled youth and the efforts that agencies such as YESS are doing to help support them and provide life skills training for them.

What special memories do you have of spending Christmas with the youth of YESS?

Over the years of volunteering at Christmas at YESS, we have lots of fond memories and have met wonderful volunteers, staff and clients. Nancy Ng is has been a volunteer cook for most of the years that Dianne and I have Christmas day at YESS. Nancy is a great traveler and mountain climber and has told us of many of her adventures; something we have enjoyed a lot and look forward to hearing on each occasion we meet. Really though, the hustle and bustle of preparing and serving dinner for 20 to 30 people makes for a busy piece of the day! The kids always appreciate our efforts and nearly every one of them takes a moment to say “thank you”. I especially like it when they come to us and say the food reminds them of Christmas dinners at their Grandma’s house; I like to think that these are beautiful memories for them, and that is very special for us! The staff at the Armoury are always helpful to get things set up, and the youth have their duties in clearing up the dishes after the meal. Once all is done and we are heading home, we always feel that we’ve accomplished something that we can be proud of…it isn’t much, but it is something we’ve been able to contribute.

What are your words to live by?

Be honest and respectful when dealing with people and they will respond in kind.

If you are interested in volunteering with YESS, please visit yess.org for more information!

Read more

Christmas Giving

Christmas at YESS would not be the joyous time it is without the help and dedication of our volunteers. Nancy Ng has been serving Christmas dinner to our youth for the past 12 years. She has made sure that hundreds of youth have had a warm and welcoming Christmas Day as they all sit down to eat together. It means so much to us and our youth that she chooses to spend this precious time with us, a gift in itself.

Tell us a bit about yourself! I work as a writer for the Government of Alberta. I am also a non-fiction author. My first book (No, Really, Where Are You From?) was published in 2012, and it is being sold in different venues and bookstores around Edmonton. I’m currently working on my 2nd and 3rd book. I always look forward to all the festivals this great city has to offer in the summer, especially Heritage Days.

What inspired you to start volunteering with YESS? I had a very chaotic and unstable childhood, so I understand what a lot of the kids at YESS are going through. I never got to use YESS when I was a youth, but I could still relate to a lot of the youth at YESS, as it was a very difficult time in my life.

It means so much to me to know that the youth get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day.

As I’m older now and my life is no longer turbulent and uncertain, I still feel the presence of my youth. It’s heartbreaking to know that these youth have no place to go on such a day as Christmas (or any other day). I feel they need Christmas more than I do, and that is why I wanted to volunteer at YESS on Christmas Day. I have a warm and safe place to return to every single day of my life, but not these youth. I feel regardless if you’re a homeless youth or an adult, everybody deserves a place to go to that is warm and inviting, and have food for them, and not be outside walking around stressing where they can get some shelter or where their next meal is coming from. Nobody deserves to live that way.

If there was one thing you wish the community knew about YESS, what would it be? The one thing I wish the community knew about YESS is their life-changing programs and services to help homeless youth get back on their feet again. Whether it’s giving them structure, helping them with their resumes, or providing them with warm beds, YESS is there for these youth. As our economy becomes more volatile and ever changing, so are the family dynamics and structure. Edmonton is very lucky to have this organization help our homeless youth.

What special memories do you have of spending Christmas with the youth of YESS? There have been so many special memories of spending Christmas with youths at YESS. The ones that stand out for me the most are seeing the happiness in the youth’s faces throughout the years, when I see them at the Armoury or at the YESS headquarters. They know they’re in a safe and warm environment, and it shows in their faces. That means so much to me to know that they get this little bit of happiness and stability on Christmas Day, amidst their chaotic and turbulent everyday realities. It’s the least I can do and I will never forget that. I hope one day I can have the opportunity to bring my children in to also volunteer, so they can see what I see.

What are your words to live by? My words to live by are: It’s going to get better. I promise. In line with my philosophy is one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Thank you so much, Nancy, for being a strong and positive force for our youth over the past 12 years and for giving the gift of your time and service. Thank you for sharing the true meaning of the holidays with us!

Read more

YESS Champions: The Home Depot Canada Foundation

The Home Depot Canada Foundation has become personally invested in taking action through The Orange Door Project to bring housing options and hope to the kids that YESS assists.

In collaboration with community partners, thought leaders, Home Depot’s suppliers, customers, and associates, the Orange Door Project focuses on improving spaces through renovations and repairs as well as supporting programs that give youth the resources to build brighter futures.

Not only did The Home Depot Canada Foundation provide YESS with a substantial monetary donation, but they also sent an important message to the many youth that YESS serves – the message that someone cares, and that they’re not alone.

But the hard-working and dedicated team didn’t stop their generosity there. They also sent a crew of over thirty men and women, and covered the cost of all supplies to give YESS an incredible makeover as part of the Home Depot Celebration of Service campaign.

Some of the improvements included tearing out an old patio and rebuilding it, building a new shed, donating a gazebo, replacing the siding on our garage, making landscaping improvements, and installing new flooring.

The Home Depot Canada Foundation is wholeheartedly committed to helping YESS change the lives of the youth we serve. Whether it’s providing funding to provide critical support programs or engaging the volunteer efforts of Team Depot associates to help improve housing accommodations, they’re proud to work with YESS to make meaningful contributions that help young people prepare for independent living.

YESS is eternally grateful for these heroes in orange who stepped up to help us “zen out” our spaces for our clients’ comfort. Having a serene, clean, beautiful space for our kids to lay their heads down at night really sets the tone for prosperity in other aspects of their lives.

Read more