The EMCN RISE Awards celebrate the accomplishments of newcomers and immigrants in the Edmonton area who demonstrate outstanding commitments to creating a more welcoming and inclusive community for all and commendable service to building strong communities through social, cultural, and economic development.
The Community Champion Award recognizes an individual’s or group’s exceptional contributions to their community and their commitment to positively impacting the lives of those around them. They demonstrate exceptional leadership, collaboration, advocacy, and innovations in their efforts to strengthen community awareness for newcomer equity. This can include volunteering time, energy, and resources towards a particular cause or organization, advocating for social justice and newcomer equality, or leading community-wide initiatives to improve the newcomer community’s wellbeing.
Dela’s nomination was supported by Jessica Day, Chief Programs Officer, YESS; Eman Mohamed, Compass Supervisor, YESS; Karley Spelrem, Transition Team Lead, YESS previous YESS youth; Karis Nsofor, Ethno-Cultural Capacity Building Project Manager, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations; Tina Pye, Contracts Specialist, Alberta Children and Family Services, Government of Alberta; Belen Samuel, Edmonton change-maker.
Here are some excerpts from the nomination forms celebrating Dela’s incredible work!
From Jessica Day, Chief Programs Officer, YESS
Delalie Mortotsi (Dela) joined Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) in 2013. During her time, she has worked in a number of roles, including Executive Assistant, Supervisor of Supportive Homes and Services, Manager of Supportive Homes and Services, and her current role, Director of Programs.
In 2017, while serving as Supervisor, Dela initiated open lines of communication with Alberta Childrens’ Services (CS), the largest funder for our supportive homes. She diligently set about building trusted relationships with various personnel, including CS contract managers, placement workers, case managers, and those working within Northern Alberta Child Intervention Services and the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. Dela’s focused efforts played a transformative role in the system, establishing consistency, fostering communication, enhancing collaboration, and ensuring transparency about organizational and service-level obstacles. This unified approach empowered CS to gain a clearer insight into the work conducted on the front lines, enabling them to provide better support, create standardized procedures, and respond to challenges and issues with heightened efficiency and effectiveness.
Dela’s ability to tackle problems has been noted by CS as beyond impressive and has earned her a respected position where she has been consistently relied upon to guide CS’s agency-wide approach to working with agencies across Alberta.
… As a pivotal leader within YESS, Dela champions growth and development by embracing transparent communications, maintaining consistent leadership, and being open to various perspectives, ideas, and methods to tackle challenges faced by youth or staff. Her influence at YESS is multifaceted and marked by her historical understanding, extensive knowledge, flexibility, agility, and unwavering consistency. She places strong emphasis on accommodation and collaboration, aspects that permeate every layer of the organization. From personal growth and leadership to youth processes, program development, training, community engagement, and interactions with executive teams and various departments, Dela’s guidance shapes and enriches all these areas. Her leadership paints a picture of an adept and compassionate leader, steadfastly committed to the holistic well-being and success of the organization and the individuals it serves.
Dela has contributed unique expertise in supporting newcomer staff and youth within YESS. Her experience in navigating the immigration process and pathways to citizenship have been invaluable. Dela has established herself as a process expert and builds relationships with youth based on encouragement, trust, accountability, and predictability. She extends beyond merely empowering young individuals; she has skillfully created a nurturing environment where they feel at ease approaching her with any concerns or grievances. The youth know that they can count on Dela’s fairness and transparency, solidifying her role as a supportive and reliable figure in their lives. Her nuanced understanding of their needs and her authentic approach to relationship-building highlight her exceptional dedication to those she serves.
From Eman Mohamed, Compass Supervisor, YESS
Delalie (Dela) Mortotsi is an incredible Community Member, Leader, Director, and Friend to anyone who has interacted with her. Dela has been my direct supervisor for almost seven years now. In that time, I went from being a summer student to leading my own department at YESS, and realistically that is only possible because of Dela.
YESS was my first step into Youth Work. While I had worked at other agencies with vulnerable populations, YESS opened the door for me to my love of youth work. If you had asked my young self when I walked into those doors if I would still be working at this organization and be more dedicated as time passed, I probably would not have believed you. However, an incredible mentor showed me how to advocate for clients, be professional and collaborate efficiently to do meaningful work.
There are probably 100 examples I can give about Dela’s work, 100 times where she has gone above and beyond for our clients, 100 times she stayed late to solve a problem, 100 times she worked a weekend to meet clients (and staff) who needed her assistance, 100 times she learned immigration issues to provide support and knowledge to our clients, 100 times she worked programs because no one else was there, 100 times she met with new agencies to provide her expertise to foster better community relations.
From Karley Spelrem, Transition Team Lead, YESS
Beyond her role as a manager, Dela actively engages with the community, seeking opportunities to give back and make a positive impact. Whether through collaboration, organizing fundraising events, or supporting community-led projects, Dela consistently showcases her commitment to improving the lives of others.
What sets Dela apart, is her genuine belief in the power of community and her relentless effort to ensure equality, safety and the prosperity of others. She understands the importance of inclusivity, diversity, and the strength that comes from each individual’s voice. Dela actively promotes and supports initiatives that foster a sense of belonging and unity for everyone in our community, regardless of background or circumstance.
From YESS Youth
I have known Dela since I started accessing YESS as a youth. She has greatly supported me in getting housing, healthcare, and my immigration process. I first accessed YESS after my refugee claimant process was denied in 2014, and I needed emergency housing. I had just moved to Edmonton, knew no one, had insufficient funds to rent a room and had just received a letter of deportation. I first met Dela at the Armory Resource Centre. I desperately needed immigration services, and Dela and the team at YESS helped me get the ball rolling. She has been fighting in my corner ever since we sat down, and I confided in her my fears of being deported with no family to go back to, being alone in Edmonton, and starting to navigate my path. After a few months in the emergency shelter, she advocated for me to get into Shanoa’s place. I stayed until my immigration process succeeded in a permanent residency in Canada. Over my time living at Shanoa’s place, Dela connected me with numerous immigration resources and supports in the community and even education services to help me get my schooling on track. Not only was she diligent with my immigration she also encouraged me to make good decisions. At the same time, in the community, she encouraged me to keep my school on track and attend the various services YESS offers, such as cooking classes and art workshops, where I sold two paintings. One thing that stood out was that Dela encouraged me to focus on all aspects of my life even though all I wanted to do was spend all m time dealing with immigration. Dela is more than qualified for the EMCN Community Champion Award because she has made a lasting positive impact on my life. I am proud to say that I am here with the help of the team at YESS and especially Dela for being a fight in my corner even when I gave up a few times due to immigration delays or setbacks. As an adult, I genuinely treasure her honesty and authenticity with me because she was intent on the best for me and my situation, such as working with me on the letter to request funds for an immigration lawyer, applying for scholarships, getting my first apartment, and being an ear to listen. As a Black youth, navigating certain services or even feeling inadequate to apply for specific resources was challenging. Still, Dela had my back and was a great motivator when I doubted myself. And look, I successfully earned a $2000 scholarship for my first year in college and received $5000 from an immigration lawyer who helped me get my PR. I am genuinely grateful to Dela for all the work and support she has given me over the years, and even when I call and check in with her, I always share my appreciation for having her in my corner since day one. Looking back to when I was 17 years old and entering YESS for the first time, I felt ashamed for being homeless, on deportation, and with no support whatsoever. Yet after meeting Dela, I gained someone who would advocate for me in what I needed, call me out when I needed it and show care, compassion, and respect as I navigated my situation. Indeed, that is the kind of supportive human being she is, and it is deeply reflected in her work at YESS, primarily through the youth she continues to fight for, such as myself.
From YESS Youth
I have known Dela since I was 16 years old, when I moved into Graham’s Place. There were a lot of ups and downs between Dela and I at the very beginning, because she was very protective of me and I disliked having a stranger care for me in the capacity that she showed. At the end of the day she and I now have a great relationship, and that’s because now as a 22 year old I understand where she was coming from and I understand that it’s okay to allow people into your life.
Dela really showed compassion towards me and my situation right from the beginning. I was a minor in a relationship with a much older person who was not a safe person for me to be around, but I didn’t want to leave him. She was determined to break my rose-coloured glasses, and with her persistence and the leadership of her team at Graham’s Place, she succeeded in this. She never gave up on me, always had my back, told me honestly when and where and how I messed up, and showed me how to fix it, and she displayed an emormous amount of love for everybody at Graham’s.
Dela is a hard ass, but that’s one of the many things that makes her such an amazing team leader. She sees where there could be improvement and she strives to create realistic goals to meet the ultimate goal of creating a better space for youth and staff within YESS. She is a never-ending advocate for her staff and for the youth she encounters. Dela is motivated to succeed within YESS and her dedication and many years at the organization show this. She is detail oriented and organized, skills every employer runs after, and she compartmentalizes very well which is an absolute asset in this industry. As a youth, I appreciate her honesty and compassion when situations aren’t quite right and there’s limited resources. That honesty helps me because it shows on behalf of YESS that they care, and that there’s really just not much they can always do for every situation, but Dela and YESS staff always give out information for other agencies or people who might be a better fit for supporting your situation.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, Dela did everything in her power to ensure I was ready to take care of a child, being a child myself at 17. She ensured I had parenting and prenatal classes, Dela made sure I made it to all of my doctors’ appointments and supported me with clothing, a stroller and baby carrier, formula, diapers and wipes, blankets, and everything one would need to start a family. She supported me leaving my ex and becoming a single parent. She had my back every step of the journey and without her love and continuous support I would not be who I am today and my daughter would not have the life she has today.
Dela has always been a huge support in my life and as she advances in the company, it makes me proud to see that her hard work, dedication, love, compassion, empathy, and kindness has paid off within YESS. I hope to see Dela in a higher position in the future but for now I truly believe there isn’t a better fit for the position than Dela herself.
From Karis Nsofor, Ethno-Cultural Capacity Building Project Manager, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations.
Some of my most memorable stories of Delalie involve her stepping boldly into the role of advocate for youth from immigrant and newcomer BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of colour] backgrounds. In her capacity at YESS, Delalie’s gift not only lies in connecting deeply with those she supports but also in facilitating impactful collaborative spaces and opportunities. Her advocacy efforts ensure that community members are wrapped around in the supports and services that they need to thrive and be actively involved in the community.
From Tina Pye, Contracts Specialist, Alberta Children and Family Services, Government of Alberta
Delalie is highly respected in her professional field, by her colleagues, community members, and most importantly by the youth she serves. I have seen her demonstrated leadership by identifying gaps in services and creating community partnerships to help fill those gaps for youth and young adults. Delalie is assertive and impactful when advocating for change. She builds healthy relationship with every person she encounters regardless of their social-economic status or position. She does not only promote inclusivity; she embodies it in her every word and action. Delalie is an indelible individual, and our community is very fortunate to have her as an active, contributing member. Delalie is a recognized leader in the movement to improve the lives of our courageous young people who rely on the interdependence of community, that Delalie relentlessly helps shape.
From Belen Samuel, Edmonton change-maker
Dela is one of the most selfless, caring, and principled individuals I have ever met. She was one of the first people I met while working at YESS: she has not only mentored me to becoming a better community service professional, but she has also informed the ways that I continue to dedicate myself to the world of community-based support services. She is the reason many community and support professionals like me see possibility beyond the impossible and in the face of limited resources and capacity.
She is not only committed to her work of making life better and essentially liveable for the lives of unhoused and societally neglected populations, but she is deeply committed to solving the precarious nature and issues of migration that uniquely affect so many refugees and immigrants of colour. The most memorable example is the case of an individual who she ensured safety and inclusion for despite and upon state requests of deportation back to the client’s country of birth. Her leadership and advocacy efforts in aligning legal services, provincial and federal consultation, and collaborative organizational teamwork not only resulted in the approved status and settlement of this client, but also made their current life of accessing higher education and supporting their own siblings despite being orphaned and abandoned in so-called Edmonton possible.