Youth Story

Meet Our Youth: J.L.’s Story

This piece was one of the most talked-about works at the Youth Art Show last year. Titled Yin and Yang, its graceful fish and pale colours invoke a sense of calm, and incredible artistic talent is clearly on display. Everything about it seems so effortless, but for its artist and former YESS youth, J.L, the journey to this tranquil place was a long one of perseverance, focus, and patience.

“In grade 10 I started to feel a lot of depression, so I stopped going to school,” says J.L. “My mom thought I was lazy… I was kicked out of my home.”

After staying at friends’ houses for a while, J.L. found her way to the YESS Nexus shelter. Without school or a stable place to stay during the day, J.L. fell in with a rough crowd. She had already been a cutter for most of her life, and her life became a spiral of cutting and drinking to cope with her depression and loneliness.

Through it all, J.L. still had a goal to continue her education and was admitted to Graham’s Place, one of our long-term residences. She completed her grade 11 coursework, but still struggled with addiction.

“All of the staff at YESS would always try to get me to make better choices. They would encourage me to work on my art and would try to suggest treatment and stuff like that. Even though I had a bed, I was always choosing to sleep in the River Valley… It can be super tough to make good choices.”

J.L. moved to our other residential program, Shanoa’s Place, in the west end to help empower her to break some of her negative cycles. She continued school through the Boyle Street Charter School and completed her high school diploma, but she knew she had more work to do before she could look to a brighter future.

“I started drinking again… Changes don’t happen overnight,” says J.L. “It was bad because I was drinking in residence. I kept falling off. I left the program.”

J.L. tried returning home, but the addiction and mental health issues among her family members made it difficult for J.L. to overcome her own obstacles.

“I knew I needed to put the effort in myself,” says J.L. “So I started staying at shelter again.”

J.L.’s struggle with addiction came to a terrifying head when she was on a binge one night and was badly beaten up. Her worst injury was her leg, which she tried to treat herself with a makeshift splint. She continued to walk on it for a day before seeing a doctor, and found out that her leg was actually broken. J.L. needed four surgeries where screws were put in her leg, followed by six months of physiotherapy and bedrest.

“This incident really sparked me to wake up and start taking care of my body,” says J.L. “Ever since then I haven’t touched drugs. Every time I think about it I feel my leg and I remember to take good care of my body.”

Once she had recovered physically, J.L. turned her sights back on her goals for her independence. She applied to the Housing First program for adults and to a post-secondary social work program—and she was accepted into both!

J.L. worked so hard on her goals for her education and a brighter future. What advice would she give to someone facing similar obstacles?

“I would say it takes a long time to learn what you know now and it takes a long time to unlearn it. I would say there are people you don’t even know who care about you. I would say that you matter. I would that who you surround yourself with makes all the difference, and that could mean you surround yourself with hardly anyone for a while, only with positive people you can find and connect with.”

J.L.’s future is so bright, and she has the drive and passion she needs to make it reality. Though her focus is forward, J.L. has many positive memories from her time at YESS.

“They helped me with every single thing. They were my support. They gave me the energy and the courage to make better choices. They encouraged me. At the time I thought all the things they wanted me to do were so small, but all those little choices were so good for me.”

Like her artistic skills, J.L.’s path to health and happiness took a lot of practice, focus, and bravery—one good decision after another. Her Yin and Yang fish prove that there is hard work beneath even the calmest surface.

Congratulations, J.L., on everything you’ve achieved so far. We know that the skills you’ve learned to become healthy and independent will serve you well in your goals and dreams for the future.

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YESS Youth Making Her Dreams Come True

Dear Staff at Youth Empowerment & Support Services,

Sixteen years ago I stayed at YESS after having a significant breakdown in my relationship with my mother. Since then my life has travelled a wonderful road, and I have always credited the staff at the shelter as a significant factor in my success.

The staff at YESS treated me in a way that everyone else in my life was not able to—with dignity and respect. Their attitude towards me helped to nurture something inside me that was rapidly dying. As a troubled teen it was easy to start seeing yourself the way the rest of the world sees you—as worthless—and without the YESS staff I can’t imagine how I ever would have found the belief in myself to move forward.

One afternoon, a youth worker from the shelter conducted a simple exercise with us: she had us visualize the ultimate reality that we could be living ten years from now, and she had us write it out. I believe that I wanted to live in a log cabin, with a kind and loving husband, and have a career as a police officer. I left the youth shelter with a self-determination that saw me through college, completing a law degree at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. This coming August I am blessed to be celebrating the completion of my law degree; in October I celebrate five years of marriage to a kind, educated and loving man, and at the end of the summer my son—a healthy, well-adjusted, and interesting young man—begins high school.

I have thought many times over the years how critical my time at YESS was. The staff there were truly amazing. They believed in me—an act so simple, but so determinative of whether I chose to live the reality of how others saw me, or live it how it could be.

While I haven’t bought a log house yet (law school is awfully expensive!), I am well past any dream that I could have dared to contemplate when facing life on the streets at 16.

– Former YESS Youth

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Youth Finds the Power to Change His Story

Ask any of the YESS staff at Nexus or ARC and they’ll all agree: Sherwood’s journey has been amazing to watch and his gentle, positive personality a joy to work with.

Sherwood had already started to change his story when he arrived at YESS. He had just finished detox and knew he needed to find somewhere supportive to stay if he was going to keep up his sobriety. That is what he found at YESS.

“I talked to the staff here, telling them what I needed,” says Sherwood. “And I stayed involved in the groups and activities offered at ARC. Having somewhere to go was very helpful. I didn’t have to aimlessly walk around all day… and then I had somewhere to sleep at night. It kept me safe.”

Soon Sherwood was connected with resources to help him achieve his goals to maintain his sobriety, find a job, and get his own place.

“Sherwood came to me when he heard about the work experience program,” says Claire, YESS Employment Coordinator. “He was very excited about the food portion of the work experience and started his food safety program right away.”

As he was getting support for his employment goal, Sherwood also worked with Erin, an AHS Addictions Counsellor, to get a referral to a treatment program to help him maintain his sobriety. With Erin’s help, Sherwood was admitted to his first-choice treatment program at Shunda Creek. He always made his check-in calls to YESS Programs staff to share his progress and his feelings about the treatment process.

Our staff were so proud to watch Sherwood achieve one goal after another. It was no surprise—from his first days at Nexus and ARC, staff found Sherwood to be positive, driven, and patient with both others and himself.

After his amazing months at treatment, Sherwood returned to YESS programs and found resources to help him find long-term housing. Just over a week later, Sherwood moved into a sober living program. In a few months, Sherwood had gone from seeking emergency shelter to committing himself to his sobriety and achieving independence.

“I mentally took an inventory of how my life had been collapsing over the past couple of years, and told myself that I didn’t want it to keep going downhill,” Sherwood says. “My advice would be don’t be afraid to express where you’re at. Showing vulnerability will lead you to success… If you go and tell someone you want to use, they can help you out in that moment, they can teach you things in that moment.”

There’s so much for Sherwood to be proud of! What would he say are his top achievements?

“Getting past addiction. Building myself up to say I don’t need to use anymore, which has gotten me to 137 days clean! Working at becoming part of my family again. And having a plan to start budgeting, which I’ve never done before.”

Staff at Nexus and ARC know that while Sherwood’s time with YESS is over, his success is just beginning. The positivity and resilience he showed while he was in our programs even inspired other youth who share some of the same goals.

“I can only imagine where he will be in another few months,” says Claire. “His passion will surely take him to wherever he wishes to be.”

Congratulations, Sherwood, on all your hard work and all you have achieved! We know the future is bright for you!

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We Are Loyal to the Pavement

This piece was written by Kristina, who shared it with us on Facebook. She is a champion of the YESS cause and presented this piece at a local event.

We are loyal to the pavement. The only stable thing in our lives, we pound on it – it never shifts. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what brought you here, you’re not wrong. Your reason is good enough. You are good enough. There is no wrong reason. And even more important, you are strong enough. You are winning, even on days you feel like you aren’t, every day that you wake up you are winning. The odds are against you; a harsh reality. We are embraced by adversity, as youth on the street. We are synonymous with struggle. We are transparent to privilege. We earn every right we have, we fight for it, scream for it, we walk some dark paths for it. As youth our ability to fight for solutions falls short of our age, to prove our opinion is worthy – it is “wise” enough to know better. We fight to be our own advocate. We fight to be heard. We battle ourselves in a teeter totter of knowing we can always do better and coping through the position we’re standing in. We face the internal battle of leaving the comfort we’ve found in those dark places and reaching for the light, the end of the battle – a different dream for everyone. We struggle to imagine our success, how we will get there and who will hold our hands. Many things will come and go, they will tear you down and leave you feeling broken. You will lose friends, you will lose things you love along the way. I promise you will heal. You will meet new friends and you will find love in new places and new things. You will one day wake up and realize, the success you struggled to imagine is internalized in who you are and the battles you’ve won. You will wake up and see the courageous person that brought you here. You will push for greatness, because you deserve it – you are worthy. You have a beautiful gift to offer the world. Success is defined as the “accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Find you purpose, whatever it is. Reach for your dreams, dear child dream big. Embrace who you are and all you’ve become – be proud of who you are. I promise you this is true, I know because I was there too. We need to empower our youth, especially those fighting their battle on the streets. The strength and drive of a youth who grew up on the streets is parallel to the spirit and drive of many of the business people I’ve come across in my professional life. I’ve walked the pavement; I paced the alleys at 3am and faced the wounds that came along with it. I resented the stereotype cast on me as a “degenerate”. I faced endlessly the judgement, that I had been or done wrong – that I wouldn’t be where I was if I had been a better person, a better kid. I fought that belief, I challenged them – I wanted to prove them wrong, not for them – for me. I fell and when I fell, I fell hard. I embraced that struggle, I cried and I screamed and I moved on. I found support in the people who held me up and I worked hard at it. Until one day, that day came, my 19th birthday (I was in BC). The day I become an “adult”. That was the day, my focus changed from fighting for my own privilege, my own rights and it became about fighting for their rights, their privilege – their right to childhood. You’re right to not have to pound the pavement. Stay strong my friends, stay innocent and humble.

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A Very Special Letter

Last week we received the most heartfelt message from a former YESS youth, sharing her story and all the amazing things that have happened to her since she left us. With your support, you are a part of stories like these–not just helping youth while they’re at YESS, but throughout their lives.

Hello,

I wanted to write to you guys to tell you a bit about how I have been doing. It has been almost 12 years since I was a client with YESS and I am sure many if not all of the staff that used to work there have moved on, but I feel it is important to give you an update.

I had a lot of troubles when I was growing up. I stayed in the SkY program (long-term residence) for a good while. The client care workers there supported me through a lot of my issues. Helped me get my self-harm under control, come away from substance abuse. I worked hard while I was there to be a better, healthier person, but it is because of the staff that I made it as far as I did.

Over the years I have had many ups and downs. I have regressed in some areas but I always fought my way back out. After a move across the country, I started fresh. I had a beautiful baby boy at 23, and he is now almost 6. Most importantly, after I had him I knew I needed to do more. I went back to school and obtained my high school diploma and then moved on to college.

 

This is the important part. Thanks to all the staff and all YESS did for me, my passion lays with helping others. I looked at many courses and none of them felt like home except for Social Services. I know in my heart and soul that this is where I am meant to be. I am meant to help others the way YESS once helped me; to advocate and fight for those who feel they can’t do so for themselves, the way YESS had done for me.

I have just finished my second year, and have one left to go before I graduate, but I have recently had the opportunity to work on a placement at an emergency shelter for women and children. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done with my education, to the point where I have applied for a casual position with them while I continue my education.

I felt it was important to write you, because as I have learned even in just the 4 weeks that I did my placement, the social services field is often a thankless one. It is draining, emotionally, physically, mentally; it is one of the hardest jobs I have ever had to do, next to motherhood (and I’m a single mom). Despite the fact that it is difficult and full of sad stories, there is always a success. Success can mean different things for different people, but for me, and for you guys, this success story ends with a strong, independent woman, with ever-lasting gratitude towards the staff at YESS for giving her a second chance, for believing she could be and do more, and for lighting the fire that gave her the passion to make a difference in the lives of others.

Thank you so much for everything you did for me and for what you continue to do for countless others. For being a parent, a friend, a light in the dark, a voice in the endless void. Thank you. Most importantly, thank you for the chance at life I would not have gotten, for the ability to know I can be more for my son, all of which I would not have without the guidance, care, and love YESS provided.

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Without a Home for the Holidays: Camille’s Story

I grew up in BC with my parents. Although we have a loving family, in time, problems arose. Things came to a head when I was having problems at school and asked to enroll in an alternative high school program. My mom refused and was really angry, and things got so bad that I moved to Edmonton to live with my aunt and uncle.

Despite everything, I missed my parents desperately. When Christmas came, I begged to go home for the holidays. My mom thought that our relationship wasn’t ready and said no. The rejection hurt pretty badly. I became bitter, which was difficult for my aunt and uncle, and I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Eventually my aunt and uncle asked me to leave.

When I came to YESS I imagined the other kids being “street kids”—bums and thieves. But the other kids were just like me. I made friends and started to bond with the staff. There were rules to follow and chores to do, but I found that these were teaching me how to be an independent adult.

Being surrounded by supportive, non-judgmental staff changed everything. Within eight months I got a job, started saving money, and accessed Student Aid programs to continue my education.

Once the time came, I found it hard to leave YESS—it felt like leaving home all over again. But this time, I knew that I was strong and capable of success. And I know that if I need them, YESS will be there for me.


YESS needs your help to give hope to more kids like Camille. Donate today.

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Give Health: Amanda’s Story

I was born in Regina, though I spent most of my life moving around Alberta and Saskatchewan. I grew up surrounded by violence and addiction. My mom would try to stay sober, but she’d always slip. I was using drugs and drinking by the time I was 12. I’m the oldest of ten kids, and I spent a lot of time cooking, cleaning, and looking after my brothers and sisters. I was used to it though – my mom kept having more kids, and they became more dependent on me as time went by. I was the mom and the big sister all the time.

I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy my youth, and when I did have time, I usually experimented with drugs or drank. My siblings and I ended up with Social Services time and time again over the years, but they always sent us back.

No one ever taught me how to deal with my feelings or anger, so I used to get into a lot of fights. I ended up at EYOC and another halfway house called CSS. I used to think my friends were my family, but I ended up in trouble over and over and they were never there for me.

I eventually ended up on the street.  Again, it seemed like my street friends were like my family. We tried to look out for each other, but when you’re hungry and you have nothing to eat, drugs will make the hunger go away, at least.

YESS has helped me a lot when I was down and out, and even when I started trying to make changes. They were supportive through a lot of phases of my life. I’ve suffered, lost and gained a lot over my life, but overall I think I’m successful. I’ve got my own place, am 9 months clean and I have a job. All that hard work has paid off.

The gift of health is yours to give when you send a #GiveChristmas card. One “Give Health” card gives five youth the mental health and addictions support they need to move forward into a healthy, fulfilling future. Visit www.givechristmas.yess.org to help a kid like Amanda.

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Give Hope: Brandon’s Story

When I was three years old, Children’s Services removed me from my home due to my parents’ addiction issues. I was placed directly in a group home for toddlers, until a foster home could be located. I spent eight years in one foster home. But as I got older, things started to change. I was starting to understand my situation more: that I wasn’t living with my real parents, that my home life was different from my friends’ at school. It created a lot of anger that I couldn’t understand. Why was I here? Why was I taken away from my family? All of this wondering about where I came from started to build up in me, and I started to act out.

Brandon1

My foster parents decided they couldn’t have me in their home anymore. I was bounced around in group care with no sense of stability and no real parents or family. Eventually I was couch surfing because Children’s Services had no other placements for me. When I had nowhere else to go, I slept on slides in playgroups, or laundry rooms in open apartment buildings.

At 17, I came to YESS. I met people who could help me manage my anger and build my confidence. Once I wasn’t obsessed with the past anymore, I could start to think about the future. I’ve caught up on school and I’m finally getting my high school diploma. I want to go to post-secondary, but I don’t know what I want to take yet. I love music, but I also love space and the universe and the idea of exploring it. Maybe that comes from my desire to know where I came from—but on the larger scale of where we all come from. It’s like I’ve finally found my place.

The gift of hope is yours to give to youth in need. One “Give Hope” #GiveChristmas card provides the necessities to one youth for one day. When a kid like Brandon doesn’t have to worry about where he’ll sleep or where his next meal is coming from, he can focus on his potential and start to feel positive about the future. Your gift will change a life. Visit www.givechristmas.yess.org

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Give Transportation: Zach’s Story

A police officer came by our Whyte Avenue building to drop off a wallet that had been lost on the train. It belonged to one of our youth living in Graham’s Place—Zach—who was at work. The officer offered to drop the wallet off with Zach if he was nearby, but he was at work at West Edmonton Mall on the other side of the city. The officer looked concerned: how would Zach get home if he didn’t have his wallet, which held his bus pass?

Meanwhile, Zach was at work and noticed that his wallet was missing. He called the house parent at Graham’s Place to let her know that he would probably be late for curfew. If a bus driver would not let him ride for free, he would have to walk the 10 kilometres home. He had done it before.


The officer was shocked that Zach would walk all that way. He said that if he got a call out in the west end and had time, he would try to find Zach to drop a bus ticket off for him.

Zach returned home to Graham’s Place shortly after his shift, well before curfew. He told a story about a police officer who stopped at the transit station and given him a bus ticket, as well as his name and badge number. Zach was amazed at the kindness shown to him, especially by a police officer. It was a remarkable experience all around, and a great meeting of the community and our youth.

The gift of transportation is bigger than you might think. One “Give Transportation” ‪#‎GiveChristmas‬ card provides a ten bus tickets to our youth, who need to get to school, to work, to medical and counselling appointments–and they need to be able to do it without riding transit illegally. Visit www.givechristmas.yess.org to help a kid like Zach. Your gift will change a life.

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Life is a Journey

Sometimes life can be a tricky thing to wrap your head around. Growing up was difficult, trying to understand this world. When I was younger I wasn’t afraid of anything. Nothing could hold me back! Everything was a game to me, or a joke, and I thought I knew it all. Maybe I didn’t know everything – but I wanted to know everything and I wanted everything right now.

I was very confused when my parents separated at a young age. As I got older I accumulated a lot of anger towards my family. I held in a lot of these feelings, which often got me in trouble in school. At a young age I started smoking. Shortly after that I experimented with drugs and alcohol, which caused me a lot of grief at home with my parents. My mom could not handle the stress so when I was 13 she washed her hands of me and sent me to live with my dad. That was chaos! At 15, I couldn’t deal with my dad’s drinking. We fought a lot so I took off to figure out life on my own. I stayed with uncles, aunties, cousins, and friends. Wherever I could stay, I stayed.

I knew to stay away from the hard drugs. I’ve experimented, which I believe messed my head up at a young age, but I couldn’t look at myself as an addict, so I always found a way to get away from the hard stuff. Alcohol, on the other hand, was a different story. Nobody could deal with my shit and I shortly started realizing what life was really about. I became very lonely subsequent to getting involved with YESS. Before YESS I was in rehab, and before that I was sleeping in an abandoned van. Realizing life wasn’t a game, I fell into a deep depression. I tried not to show it, but people probably could see it considering I was anti-social. I was a loud-mouth growing up, so it was probably noticeable.

YESS is a wonderful place and every day I’m learning new things. I am so grateful for their services. After rehab they took me in with open arms, no problem. When I thought I had nobody or nothing, there they were all along. They have given unfortunate youth like myself hope! And I’m greatly appreciative of the community and it is so beautiful to know how many loving hearts are out there who donate. My heart is truly baffled by what we have here.

Every day is a new challenge for me and my faith is infinite for my success. My journey for tranquility is still an adventure, but I’m confident I’ll succeed, especially with the support I have out there. I do believe people seldom try to find peace, but this life is a journey and I’m going to embrace every moment. Even when times are tough and when I’m down, YESS has given me a lot of confidence in my resiliency. I am truly blessed! I’m very grateful for all that has been done for me and I thank you so much. My success is peace and happiness and I’m sure I’ll find it.

This is the story of one of our youth. Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of YESS’ clients.

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