Yesterday’s inaugural Rise & Thrive Breakfast in support of the Youth Services Bureau Foundation was everything that an early-morning fundraiser should be: bright, bold and cheerful, as well as inspiring.
“Look at this room,” Erika Falconer, board member with the YSB Foundation and community manager for presenting sponsor RBC, told her audience of the vibrant surroundings inside the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne.
Even the napkins and flower vases were colourful. As well, the place was filled with the upbeat sounds of music from DJ and live performer Mellow Dee. Multi-disciplinary artist Allan André completed a live painting during the breakfast that would later be used to help thank supporters of the fundraising event.
This holiday season, let’s make sure everyone in our community gets to experience the sense of joy and optimism associated with this special time of year. When we think ‘support
The venue — decorated by Avant-Garde Designs — was attention-getting. Getting noticed is exactly what YSB wants, particularly when it comes to the good work it’s doing in the community to help vulnerable youth.
The non-profit organization offers a variety of free, bilingual services, serving 3,000 youth and families every month. YSB helps make sure young people have somewhere safe to sleep through its emergency shelters and housing programs, that youth seeking mental health support get the help they need, that young people train and successfully find their first job, and that a youth who’s been involved with the law gets the support to change course and move forward, the room heard.
By kicking off the new breakfast fundraiser, the crowd of 275 attendees was helping to launch an annual event that celebrates the youth in our community and the work of YSB staff, while also raising more than $65,000.
“I never, ever, ever want to hear a single person say they don’t know what YSB is,” Isabelle Perrault, proud board chair of the YSB Foundation and the founder and CEO of growth and innovation firm Differly, said on stage. She threw in a few more “never evers” just for good measure.
Perrault thanked businesses for buying tickets and tables to help give youth “a fighting chance”. She encouraged supporters to go one step further by initiating their own employee-giving campaign, sponsoring a shelter room or dedicating a day to volunteer. “Every gesture is a step forward in this movement,” said Perrault. “Every young person in our community matters, correct? Every person matters.”
She acknowledged all the volunteer board members and the foundation team, as well as the YSB staff. “They’re simply tireless in making sure every young person is seen, heard and has the chance to thrive.”
Attendees heard personal stories of how YSB has put local youth on higher trajectories. “I’m what I like to call a ‘YSB frequent flier’, so I feel like I can say YSB has really helped to change my life and helped me become the person I am today,” said 18-year-old university student Amy Unhola. She co-emceed the breakfast with radio host Katherine Dines from Move 100.3. “I am forever grateful.”
Amara Harris bravely shared her story of growing up with seemingly insurmountable hardships and a repeated sense of abandonment that left her believing she had “no worth, that you’re unlovable”.
But, life got better after she moved, with the help of her social worker and YSB, into the supportive housing building run by YSB on Riverside Drive. It’s for youth ages 16 to 21. The place, which opened in 2019, offered her a fresh start, a chance to live independently and a rent that was less expensive than living in a basement bedroom. She also spoke of how the staff at YSB understood what she was feeling and provided her emotional validation. “I felt like I was speaking to people that ‘got it’,” said Harris.
At YSB, Harris was inspired by the other young people who had navigated a complicated and often tumultuous journey, as well. “It’s awful that those things can happen to anyone, especially so young and vulnerable. No one should have to endure that walk alone.”
Harris said she learned empathy and understanding, including for herself. “I’ve always been hard on myself because of the hand that I was dealt in life, and it takes so much to put your warped lens aside and be able to admit to yourself that you did not deserve that … I finally saw that, with unwavering confidence, and I have YSB to thank.”
Harris, 23, now works with children with autism.
The room also heard from YSB’s director of finance, Wes Richardson, who’s the acting CEO of YSB, and Neil Slattery, a YSB youth councillor who spoke about the important role YSB workers have in making “a connection with a person who’s probably, at times, going through the hardest moments of their life”.
Slattery recognized that some parents are not capable of having those hard conversations with their kids, no matter how much they care about them. That’s where YSB can help, he said while sharing a story from several years ago of a 12 year old disclosing they were transgender while the youth’s unaware parents were outside in the waiting room. “Over the months that followed, I had the great privilege of working with and supporting that whole family. I remember the mom and dad at the end saying to me, ‘You know, we love our kid so much’ — and they were great parents — ‘but we don’t know if we could have done that on our own’.”
YSB is there for families, said Slattery. “To give a cheesy kind of joke, being a worker at YSB is kind of like Home Depot: you can do it and we can help. All the clinical training comes in handy but at some point in that room that young person trusts you or they don’t. That human connection is absolutely crucial to the work that we do. Really, that’s what you’re supporting today; it’s allowing us to continue to be able to do that great work every single day.”