Youth Story

Meet Our Youth: Mariah

I was 18 years old when I had my son. When I found out I was pregnant it was right around the time I stopped drinking/using. I became very dedicated to having my baby. When he was born I never felt so much love in my whole life. I felt this new kind of love. I named him Heyden Ryker and he was born December 15, 2012. My life completely changed after that. I went to Breamar High School for three years and my son went to the Terra day care at the high school.

I struggled so much having to take care of my son. I felt like I was all alone. All of my natural supports were so unhealthy. My family didn’t want to help me and I was carrying the burden of being responsible for the well being of my whole family. I was not only going to school and taking care of my son but also taking care of my whole family. I struggled with domestic violence with my son’s father. It was really hard to be together in this relationship and also try to take care of my son.

The best thing I ever did as a parent was show my son all of the love in my heart. He will be 5 years old this year.  He is so calm and loving and gentle. I lost my son due to the domestic violence. I was unable to give him a safe place and take care of him properly with all of the negative people in my life. I lost my son and then everyone disappeared. No one was there for me when I wanted to try and get him back either. I gave up on everything and myself.

I thought a family was when everyone helped each other out no matter what. I felt like everyone had turned their back on me and I felt so betrayed. My son’s father went to jail around this time and it was the first time that I was alone, in my whole life. Even though my relationships with people might not have been good for me or my son it was the worst thing that could have happened at that time in my life to have no one. The worst thing to feel was being by myself and scared and unable to cope without them.

At that time I found the Armoury and the YESS shelter. I was using and drinking and eventually tried to take my own life. I actually overdosed and was taken to hospital. I just couldn’t deal with the fact that I had tried my very best and no one would help me. The betrayal and abandonment and not having my son in my life took away my ability to care or desire for change. All of the love that I felt when I first had my son was gone and I was angry, bitter and sad. I then became an IV user. I was so gone that I even forgot I was a mother. I didn’t want to feel. I was in this place for about a year long, scrambling around Whyte Ave with a toxic group of people I thought were my friends. YESS was the only place that I had. I would go to the shelter and the staff would remind me that I had a son and they would push me to try and come up with a plan to change my life around.  For a whole year this was a daily occurrence with staff. I was missing my visits and it was because I didn’t want my son to see me that way. I still felt like I wanted to give up but the staff just patiently waited for me to want to shift and change. They told me I didn’t belong on the streets. And I didn’t. I was bullied and used and taken advantage of. My addiction got so bad I didn’t know if I would make it.

I don’t want to focus on my past anymore. I feel like I hold on to a lot of things but I accomplished so much in my treatment programs. I would go to meetings all the time, all throughout the week.  I disciplined myself so strongly because I wanted change. I had enough of Whyte ave and the people I thought were my friends. I had enough of people telling me I couldn’t do it and I couldn’t get my son back. I am so resilient. I always have been but I didn’t see it until I had gone through treatment. I now see myself as someone who helps people and I see myself as a leader. I want to help people, even the ones who hurt me in my past. I want to go to school and I want to do big things with my life. Treatment taught me that there is so much more to life…there is a moment where you tell yourself this is enough and I am done. I had to discipline myself to remind myself EVERY DAY that I did not want to go back to where I was.  I worked so hard to build up all my supports to be where I am today.

It is still so hard. Every day I have thoughts about how easy it would be to go back to the way things were but then I play that tape forward and realize what I would be choosing. All of that is over for me. I can feel it and see it and I am reminding myself. It is a relief that I know I don’t want that anymore. The repetitive cycle of insanity…it can stick with you. I feel like I have a lot of people who really want me to make it. Even when I didn’t think I could. I have people in my life who want to see me be the best person and mother I can be. I only started to see it when I got clean. If I never went through treatment I would not be who I am now.

I needed to go through all of this to be who I am today. It was hard and unfair and I didn’t deserve any of it and I didn’t ask for any of it. I only wanted good for my son. I never saw myself as someone who would end up the way that I did…but it happened. I never saw myself as that person.

Every day I see all the good things in my life. I want to help youth who are going through similar situations.  I want to help youth that struggle because I know it and understand it. I want to be a good role model and lead by example. I don’t want to repeat the cycle of so many aboriginal families. I want to be successful. I want my son to grow up better than I did.

My greatest achievement would be going to high school while I was raising a child. I am now going to upgrade and I only need one more course. I am going to go to Norquest and when I applied I thought I would need so much more upgrading but I only need one course to set myself up to get post secondary education. That is amazing and I am so proud of that.

I also finished 90 days of treatment at Poundmakers and went into the aftercare program and spent 6 whole months in the treatment process. I never wanted to do anything for myself it was always for my boy.  Treatment was for me and I feel so proud of that. I did this for me and no one else and I am clean today and that is a huge accomplishment. I have had my own apartment for a whole year and have done this without any issues…which is so amazing. I will move into a two bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and we will have the second room so that I can get my son back.

If I have to narrow it down to whom I would choose to thank in my life I would say Dolphin from YESS and my boyfriend. I have known Dolphin since I first became homeless. He encouraged me do these goal charts and I was so angry and unwilling but he was so patient and persistent at the same time. Trying to get to know me and help me. I learned how to sit with my feelings and I had never had that before. To help me process what my choices are and why I make them and what I really want to do. He made me angry at first because I did not want to sit with my feelings but then later I would thank him. He was always there and making sure I was okay and reminding me of what I surround myself with. He didn’t give up. I feel so grateful and happy that he came into my life. And my boyfriend, he started in my life as my best friend and now we are together. When we met I was going though all these things and so he knows everything. No matter what he stayed loyal to me. He would help me get to appointments and encouraged me to rebuild my relationship with my son. We would talk about the future. We are finally in a place where we are living out the future that we had envisioned for ourselves. He is so loyal and has been by my side. I never knew someone could love someone as messed up as I was.  He loves my son and wants to be a part of my life and my son’s life and this means the world to me. He really helped me get to where I am today.

My biggest advice to someone who is going through what I went through. Don’t give up on yourself. It is all about whom you surround yourself with. Seek out supports and look through all your resources. Go to meetings and talk to people that have changed and want to change. Learn to love yourself; you would be amazed at what is possible.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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Meet Our Youth: Jude’s Story

Jude lives at Shanoa’s Place, one of our long-term residences that provides a home environment and constant support for youth who are working on big goals like school, sobriety, and employment. Jude sat down with us to tell his YESS story, from being scared and newly homeless to feeling confident and looking towards the future. The connections he built with our staff helped him discover his true self and his goals.

What was life like before you came to Shanoa’s Place?

I was isolated and lonely and scared to rebel against my parents and their religion. My family are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When you first came to Shanoa’s place what was it like?

It was a little scary because I was coming off the streets and I had never been in this situation before, but everyone at the house was very friendly and welcoming.

Can you share one of your first memories of Shanoa’s Place?

I was really sick when I first came to Shanoa’s Place so I immediately went to my room and tried to sleep. I also hadn’t had a private room for a month because I was couch surfing and staying at Nexus [YESS’ overnight shelter]. I remember the occasional screaming and one of the youths knocking on my door saying he wanted to meet the new kid. Little did I know, the screaming came from my roommates yelling at their computer games and my other roommate who just wanted to meet me really bad. I became really good friends with everyone that week.

What are some positive changes that have happened since you’ve been here?

I learned to stand up for myself and I found my self. I learned who I really am and I’m still learning. I’m a lot more confident than before. I’ve also learned how to take care of myself.

How have you learned to take care of yourself?

My parents used to take of everything. They monitored and criticized everything I did. I now have learned how to look for jobs and go to school by myself. I’ve learned how to become motivated.

I also learned how to make friends on my own because I was only ever able to meet Jevoha’s witnesses. I was only allowed to meet “parent-approved friends”.

If you can give advice to younger people who are going through the same thing that you did, what advice would you give them?

Think for yourself. When you’re raised in a certain situation it can be scary to remove yourself from the bubble but you have to think for yourself. I’m infinitely more happy on my own. So do what makes you happy. There isn’t any point in life if you don’t do what makes you happy.

What do see for yourself in the future. What goals do you want to accomplish?

I want to continue to grow and find myself. One day I’d like to have kids of my own and show them that there’s more to life than being a sheep. I want to teach them from a young age to think for themselves. People shouldn’t have to go through all the pain of facing homelessness and being separated from the family in order to think for themselves and make their own choices.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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YESS is Home

YESS is Home

A former YESS youth shares her story

I was a high risk youth, with little to no support. I adore my parents but addiction was and is their biggest struggle. My first experience with homelessness was at twelve years old. I simply stopped going home to physical and verbal abuse and the types of men my mother brought around.

Over the next few years I lived what I knew—drinking and abusing drugs. I lost count of how many times I dropped out of school, or how many times I had hurt myself in some way. I had nowhere to go, and no connections to anybody or any resources. I was not capable of making the changes I needed and was convinced I would not live to see adulthood.

When I found YESS, I was taken in and given a safe place. I was never one to trust easily but something just felt right. A youth worker showed me how capable I was and taught me how to take responsibility for my actions and take control in my life. At YESS I slowly stopped abusing drugs. I was allowed to be sad and I was allowed to be heard. I was allowed to feel; something I had never experienced before. I stopped self-harming and I developed healthy boundaries.

My experience with YESS was life changing. I went from a child finding heroin needles around the house to a young adult with safety, security and a future.

YESS was my home not only during holidays, but also throughout the year. I knew I could always count on them. YESS changes lives; I know it saved mine.

You can make a difference in the lives of youth during the holiday season and all year round at YESS.org/YESSishome.

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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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