YESS Champion

Interview with YESS Volunteer Peter Li

Prior to the pandemic, Peter volunteered in our Nexus Overnight Shelter. Though volunteering looks a little different these days, we wanted to catch up with Peter and talk about his focus on mental health.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I was born and raised in Edmonton. After high school I went to the U of A for Engineering. After the first semester I decided drop out and apply to NAIT for Instrumentation Engineering. 

Then after the first year of NAIT I dropped out again to work for a financial education company. I realized school wasn’t for me. 

Through that company, I gained confidence in becoming an entrepreneur. So I started a CrossFit gym with a good friend of mine and ran that business for 4 years. Then I started working in marketing and now I have my own marketing agency where I help small businesses increase their sales. 

How did you come to volunteer at YESS?

I was a point in my life where a lot of pieces had clicked into place for me. I felt very fortunate to have the resources and time at my disposal. I also knew that there were many people who were in a less fortunate situation than me, so I felt drawn to give back and serve. 

I chose YESS because I feel strongly that youth in the age range of 15-21 are at a fork in the road. Especially those who are homeless with no real support system or family to take care of them. 

I made a lot of mistakes in my late teens and early 20s and I’ve also learned a lot of information that I feel would be helpful for youth in this age group. I’ve also had many mentors and friends who were 5-10 years older than me. I feel having these people in my life helped shaped the direction of my life in a positive way. 

So if I can share some of my experience and knowledge with these youth, hopefully they can choose a more positive path instead of continuing on a downward spiral.  

In what capacity do you volunteer at YESS?

Before COVID, I was going into the Nexus shelter two nights a week. I would run book club sessions and meditation sessions for those who were interested. 

What benefits do you see from reading and meditation as mental health practices?

With reading, I think of it like this… Someone spends a huge portion of their life (10, 20, 30 years…?) studying a subject. Then spends another few years taking all that knowledge and distilling it into a book that I can read in a week or so. To me, I feel like I’m gaining time because I’m able to leverage someone else’s time to learn a subject or topic that interests me. There’s also a saying I heard that goes “the more you learn, the more you earn,” I’ve seen this play out in my life which is why I’m such an advocate of reading. Plus, by reading I’m also able to expand my vocabulary and give my brain a workout in order to create new neural pathways. It’s like going to the gym, but for our brain. 

Now when it comes to meditation… In this day and age there are so many external elements trying to steal our attention. Attention spans these days are shrinking more and more which is kind of scary. The ability for someone to focus seems like a lost art nowadays. That’s one of the reasons why I meditate. 

What happens if you don’t take out the garbage from your home and you leave it piling up for weeks or months? The same needs to happen for our mind. There’s so much clutter and noise that I feel it’s important to take the time to sit quietly and “take out the garbage” within our own mind. Give my mind room to come up with new solutions for problems, clear the mental clutter, think clearly, better focus. Less “chasing” and more “being”. Connect back to who we truly are instead of what society tells us we should be.

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

There are many smart and savvy youth at YESS. But unfortunately, due to their circumstances, they’ve had to grow up in pretty harsh and abusive environments. Often I think to myself, “if I went through what they went through, I’d be in the same position….”

Many of us are fortunate enough to grow up in a “normal” environment, whereas a lot of these youth didn’t have that luxury. Before you judge someone based on their looks, status, age, sexual orientation, colour, etc., first put yourself in their shoes and try to feel the pain they went through that brought them to their current situation. 

We are not separate, we are all connected… So if one part of the whole is suffering, then we’re all suffering.  

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Meet Don and Elaine Geake

Don and Elaine Geake have been giving to YESS annually for over 20 years, but their story with YESS begins long before that. Get to know these incredible members of our community and how they have taken action on their lifelong beliefs to help those who need it.


I [was born] two days prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even though growing up during WWII and early post-war time wasn’t always easy for our family, my three brothers and I were made aware of the need to help others less fortunate. This philosophy is one that my wife Elaine and I passed on to our children who have continued this practice in both career choices and daily life.

I focused my high school courses on a career in engineering, but in Grade 12 I felt an urge toward a “helping” occupation. I enrolled in education instead and worked with the Edmonton Public Schools for 34 years as both teacher and principal.

My first contact with YESS came in the mid-1980’s when I was principal at Mill Creek Elementary School.  At Christmas, the school community would donate [gifts] of non-perishable food items which were given to YESS.

As an educator, I recognized the importance of providing children with a sound base in a safe and encouraging environment for a happy and fulfilling life. In addition to meeting their basic needs for food and shelter, it is also necessary for mental and emotional support.

My wife and I have continued to contribute to YESS because it plays an important role in supporting youth in crisis with not only the necessities of life, but also in achieving mental and emotional stability.

A big thank you to the staff at YESS for their dedication in providing their clients with hope, healing and safety as well as educational and occupational opportunities.

 By Don Geake


Don’s work with students demonstrates the importance of engaging young people in their community. YESS values working with schools to empower students to support their community and practice leadership. We continue to help with this in the online teaching and virtual worlds, as well as in-person.

If your school is interested in learning more about YESS and our work, please contact us at giving@yess.org or call 780.468.7070.

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Mac and Cheese Recipe with YESS Chef Tiffany

Alberta Milk continues to be an awesome YESS partner, donating $6000 this year! Being able to provide healthy and nutritious food for our youth not only fulfills a basic need, it also helps build trust and develop a sense of safety youth feel in our programs.

Alberta Milk is a non-profit organization that represents Alberta’s dairy producers. They support family-owned and operated dairy farms in their work to produce safe, nutritious food in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable way.

Get a serving of dairy and follow along with Program Kitchen Coordinator and YESS Chef Tiffany Sorensen to upgrade a box of mac and cheese! Tiffany has been making instructional cooking videos that feature common ingredients or items from emergency food hampers to share with youth who are learning to cook.

For more recipes with Alberta Milk visit albertamilk.com.

 

Upgraded Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

Box of mac and cheese
Protein of choice
Onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp flour
¾ cup of milk
Herbs (such as thyme or sage)
Kale or spinach
Salt and pepper
Grana Padano or parmesan

 

1. Add salt to boiling water, then add the pasta. Cook for approximately 8 minutes until al dente.

2. Strain noodles and set aside. Save ¼-1/2 cup of pasta water for sauce later.

3. Warm up a pan, add 1 tbsp of oil and cook protein of choice on low-medium heat to render the fat without burning. Once cooked, set protein aside to be added later.

4. In the same pan, saute onions on low-medium heat.

5. Add 1 tbsp of garlic and saute with onions.

6. Add butter to the pan and melt. Add flour and cook on low to prevent burning. Flour should be golden.

7. Incorporate milk while stirring. Simmer to thicken.

8. Add herbs, cheese packet (about ¼ of package that came in the mac and cheese box), cooked protein, pasta water, kale/spinach, and cooked pasta. Season with salt and pepper—be mindful that the cheese packet also has salt and taste as you go.

9. Finish with Grana Padano or cheese of choice.

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Catch Up with YESS Champion Boston Pizza

Boston Pizza has been a long-time champion of YESS and youth in Edmonton! For the past few years, they have focused their donations to the YESS overnight shelter, which has an immediate and positive impact on the prevention of youth homelessness. At YESS we focus on prevention and diversion out of youth homelessness, ensuring that the youth who access our programs 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 back into the community.

With the 2019 Boston Pizza Charity Golf Classic, Boston Pizza donated $15,000 to our overnight shelter program! In addition to supporting our programs, Boston Pizza also supports the spirit of connection by providing pizza dinners for movie nights and other special events we host with youth in our overnight shelter, daytime resource centre, and supportive housing programs. Moments when our youth can come together like this are truly special.

Boston Pizza was also among the restaurants who stepped up to provide meals for our youth while our Whyte Ave kitchen was being renovated!

Over the years, Boston Pizza has donated  $125,000 to various YESS programs and impacted the lives of thousands of youth. They have demonstrated amazing leadership in the cause of youth homelessness, and we are honoured to have them as part of our community walking beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration.

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A Sanctuary Within a Sanctuary

Meet the Latte Family, who created Richard’s Reading Room at the Armoury Resource Centre and created a legacy of giving in memory of their son, Richard

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. My name is Cheryl Latte. I am a mom of five, and a grandma.  I love to help create spaces and sanctuaries for others. Thus far I have helped create a number of spaces including: a playroom at another charitable organization, a family space at an assisted living facility, and have helped set up and decorate homes for new refugee families. Of course Richard’s Reading Room is the space that started it all. When my son Richard passed away tragically at the age of 22 from testicular cancer, I was a mom who was deeply grieving and needed to find something positive to focus on in the face of something so tragic. I thought of YESS and the rest, as they say, is history. I am so humbled that this small space has become an integral part of the YESS landscape, and that Richard (and our family) continue to make a positive difference in the lives of others. 

2. What are some of your strongest beliefs about YESS? YESS helps kids. That is the long and short of it.

They help youth in so many ways:  their physical and mental health, and emotional needs.

YESS gives them a safe place to be and a soft place to land when their world is anything but. 

3. What is something you wish the community knew about YESS and YESS youth? When I visit the Armoury to tidy Richard’s Reading Room, or to bake with the kids there, I always come away with far more than I give. I can’t count the number of thanks and hugs I have received over the last 7 years. I am always awed at the level of kindness and compassion I see in these kids, and that they are so grateful for the smallest of gestures. I have had the privilege of hearing some of their stories, and they have asked me to share mine. Sharing our stories… it is how we connect with each other, despite our differences. How fitting it is that those stories are often shared in Richard’s Reading Room: a place where stories abound.

4. What inspired you to give to YESS through an endowment? When we were planning the grand opening of Richard’s Reading Room in November 2012, it became apparent that the monetary donations we received from the community to create the room exceeded what we needed at the time. We were lucky enough to meet with a representative from the Edmonton Community Foundation, who suggested that an option for the remaining funds could be to create an endowment fund in Richard’s name. We were excited to go ahead with this, as it would mean that Richard’s legacy would continue to give back for years to come. 

Although the direction of the “Richard Latte Educational Fund” has changed a bit over the years, I’m thrilled to know that Richard’s Reading Room at YESS will continue to receive funds regularly, which will allow the space to continue to be updated, homey, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing, and filled with a selection of good quality youth literature. It will continue to be a “sanctuary within a sanctuary.”

Richard’s chapter is finished, but his story continues thanks to Richard’s Reading Room at YESS and the endowment fund established in Richard’s honor with The Edmonton Community Foundation.

If you’re interested in or have any questions about endowments or legacy giving, please contact our Philanthropy team at giving@yess.org.   

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Got Milk?

The YESS kitchens do thanks to a partnership with Alberta Milk!

 “It has been a huge relief for our kitchen to not have to worry about where we are going to buy milk for our kids,” says Cherish Hepas, YESS Kitchen Supervisor. “Thanks to Alberta Milk and their long-term friendship with us, our kids are given the amount suggested to us by the Canada Food Guide. We need more friends like them! They are giving our youth a healthy beginning to a new future.”

Alberta Milk is proud to partner with YESS and to be part of providing our youth with proper nutrition. Says Charmaine Blatz from Alberta Milk, “Alberta Milk is proud to support initiatives such as this. We understand the issues that face these kids and are happy to provide support the YESS in all the programs they have.”

Recipe

YESS Dream Summer Smoothie

With frozen peaches and mangos, these quick & easy smoothies can make any day a tropical dream.

Servings: 1 smoothie (recipe may easily be doubled)

Prep Time: 5 Minutes

Total Time: 5 Minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup peeled and sliced peaches, cold (frozen peaches should be thawed)
  • 1/2 cup chopped mangoes, cold (frozen mangoes should be thawed)
  • 1/4 cup mango nectar, cold
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 of a banana
  • 2 teaspoons agave (optional)
  • ½ cup of 0% Greek yogurt

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and purée until completely smooth. Pour into a tall glass and enjoy cold.

https://youtu.be/QUCgKpuVU0I

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Volunteering at YESS

Many hands make the work and healing done at YESS possible

YESS volunteers are a huge part of the work we do in our youth programs, in our offices, at special events, and around our buildings every day. In 2018, 435 volunteers gave 5021 hours of their time and dedication to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing. Volunteers are community individuals, students, and corporate teams looking to give where they live.

At the 2019 YESS Gala for Youth volunteers greeted guests, sold raffle tickets, and helped set up and tear down the incredible Underneath the Stars experience. Our gala and golf tournament would not be the same without our event volunteers. YESS volunteers are also part of major community events such as Interstellar Rodeo and this year’s Edmonton Craft Beer Festival that benefit YESS. They are part of the impact YESS is making on the community.

In programs volunteers help wake up youth in the shelter, serve lunch at the daytime resource centre, and host fun events for all youth like Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties, and BBQs.

One team of volunteers that has done a lot of work over the past two years is Distribution NOW. Their enthusiasm when they come to YESS is so contagious and we’re always happy to see them!

“The DistributionNOW Lights Program was created to encourage our people to look for ways to support organizations and causes that help others and improve our communities,” says Nan Mifflin, General Manager of the Edmonton Distribution Centre at Distribution NOW. “As an industry leader, DistributionNOW believes it is our responsibility to use our influence and relationships to promote increased philanthropic efforts throughout our Canada-wide branch network and with our industry partners.  DistributionNOW is a proud supporter of YESS and their vision to walk beside traumatized youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration.”

Volunteers also help in the maintenance of our facilities at Whyte Ave, the Armoury Resource Centre, and Shanoa’s Place. Led by our amazing Facilities team, volunteers organize donations, plant gardens, tidy yards, and paint. Some volunteers take on even bigger jobs, like at the United Way Engineering Day of Caring. Volunteers with engineering backgrounds replaced roof shingles, installed new flooring in shelter areas, and built a new patio base in the Whyte Ave yard. It was a huge “done in a day” effort that we couldn’t have accomplished without them!

We like to share the quote “Changing the world always needs volunteers.” Our volunteers are truly making a positive impact in the lives of youth by working directly with them, creating safe spaces for them, and providing support for resources that empower them. This work is changing our community, creating a city where we can all heal together.

Are you interested in sharing your time and dedication with youth on their journeys towards healing? Visit YESS.org/volunteer to check out volunteer opportunities and apply to volunteer!

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Spring Recipe from The Organic Box

The Organic Box provides hundreds of dollars’ worth of produce to our kitchens every week. They have also shared their passion for helping our youth with their Food Family initiative, which leads to donations of almost $13,000 annually.

Oven-Roasted Root Crops with Chicken

  • 8 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 8 ounces potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces romanesco broccoli, trimmed to similar pieces
  • 6 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths, thick ends halved lengthwise
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried, divided
  • 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary or 3/4 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 2.5-3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 475 degrees. Toss brussels sprouts, potatoes, shallots, carrots, garlic, oil, 2 tsp fresh thyme, 1 tsp fresh rosemary, sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper together in a large mixing bowl. 
  2. In a small mixing bowl stir together melted butter, remaining 2 tsp fresh thyme, remaining 1 tsp fresh rosemary, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place vegetables in a single layer on an 18 by 13-inch baking sheet, arranging brussels sprouts in the center. Place chicken, skin side up, on top of vegetables, arranging thighs around the perimeter of the sheet. 
  4. Brush chicken with herb butter. Roast until thighs register 175 degrees, 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through roasting.
  5. Remove sheet from oven, tent loosely with aluminum foil and let rest 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter or plates. Toss vegetables with pan juices, season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to platter or plates and serve warm.
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Winter Recipe from The Organic Box

The Organic Box provides hundreds of dollars’ worth of produce to our kitchens every week. They have also shared their passion for helping our youth with their Food Family initiative, which has led to donations of over $13,000.

 

Winter Vegetable Strata

Adapted from The Kitchen Paper (thekitchenpaper.com)

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed (1″)

1 tsp olive oil

salt and pepper

2 tbsp butter

1/2 cup shallots, minced

2 bunches kale, chopped (2 cups)

8 cups crusty bread, cubed (1″)

1 tbsp grainy mustard

1 tbsp fresh thyme

10 eggs

2 cups half & Half cream

1 Cup gruyere, shredded

2/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped, for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Toss butternut squash with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet until fork-tender (20ish minutes).
  2. In a heavy-bottom skillet, melt the butter and add the shallots. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Whisk together mustard, thyme, eggs, and 1/2/ & 1/2. Set aside.
  4. Arrange the bread, squash, kale mixture and cheese in layers in the skillet, reserving a handful of cheese for topping.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over everything in the pan. Let the bread absorb the eggs for a few minutes (up to an hour in the fridge).
  6. Reduce the oven to 350. Cook the strata for 45-55 minutes, or until the center is no longer wobbly. Add the reserved cheese and broil for a minute to crisp everything up.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes, top with hazelnuts and serve.
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Interview with YESS Board Chair Robert Blackwell

You’ve served on the YESS board for a number of years. What was it about the work YESS does that first drew you to YESS?

I moved to Edmonton 11 years ago as general manager of a hotel on the south side,and was first introduced to YESS through assisting with complimentary meeting space, rooms, etc. which we were happy to provide. We became more involved as our employees participated in Homeless for a Night several years running, so our employees actually chose YESS as our local charity to support. I always felt that YESS was a great fit for our hospitality team as both strive to provide a safe, welcoming environment and comfort to people in need of shelter.

How does serving on a board empower you to give back to your community?

When I look at my own three kids who have grown into healthy, confident young adults, I am incredibly grateful that my wife and I were able to provide a stable, loving home for them and provide them with opportunities to grow and thrive. Working on the YESS board has allowed me to give back by supporting this amazing organization providing sanctuary and support, walking beside Edmonton youth to help them build successful lives after suffering trauma and homelessness during their most critical formative years.

What has been your most remarkable experience at YESS?

The most remarkable thing about YESS is the staff. I am in awe at how committed and passionate they remain through dealing with challenges and incidents every week, and sometimes every day, that would break the spirit of many people. The shelter they provide, programs they deliver, and relationships they build with Edmonton youth facing difficult realities is truly remarkable and changes lives—not many people can say that about the vocation they have chosen, and we all need to be grateful for the people who make organizations like YESS possible.

What do you wish the community knew about YESS?

I wish everyone in Edmonton understood that homeless youth will grow into homeless adults or suffer even worse fates if we don’t act to help them, and there is not nearly enough focus on youth homelessness by all levels of government or funding for organizations like YESS. YESS provides emergency shelter, residential programs, daytime programs, and many other forms of assistance in three facilities, but 70% of our $4M+ budget comes from fundraising efforts. Executive Director Margo Long is working with similar local agencies to build a network dedicated to helping youth, but we need to change how the community and governments view youth homelessness and provide funding in keeping with the scope and consequences of the problem.

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