Farewell letter from Executive Director Meagan Hennekam
I’m writing today to share that I am moving on from my role as Executive Director of the YES Shelter for Youth and Families. I do this with a heavy heart, as it has been a privilege to serve this incredible organization and such an important mission for the last 5 years. However, I know that YES is being left in the very capable hands of the staff and Board of Directors, who I know will continue to keep the youth and families who need us at the front of every decision they make.
Firstly, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for your engagement, donations and support of youth and families experiencing homelessness. Some of you signed up to help over COVID-19, and many of you have been engaged in the activities at YES since we started this work 20 years ago. I want you to know that you are cherished in our organization and that youth and families have a far bigger chance of exiting homelessness because of each of you. YES wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you and all the incredible people in our community who want to end homelessness as much as we do. I hope you will continue to support YES’ work; there is nothing more important.
“I hope you will continue to support YES’ work; there is nothing more important.”
Thank you to YES’ Board of Directors, and all of the past Board members who have volunteered their time and expertise to serve YES. We have a strong and committed Board. Through their leadership, YES consistently expands our services, and has adapted many times to the changing landscape. The current board has served YES through the many challenges and adaptations that COVID forced upon us. I know that YES is being left in great hands, and these wonderful community members will support the transition.
I am extremely proud of my team and what we have accomplished. Thank you to each of you, the frontline emergency workers in our community. These staff show up every single day with open hearts, and a relentless dedication to their clients. Their work is taxing, heart breaking and demanding. But YES staff believe in our clients, and know that with help, youth and families in our community move on and do incredible things. Our staff get to witness this change, and are there to cheer youth on when they secure housing, graduate from high school, work on their mental health, and countless other milestones. It has been an honour to serve alongside this committed staff team. Thank you all for your work.
“It has been an honour to serve alongside this committed staff team. Thank you all for your work.”
Together, over the last 5 years we have:
- Tripled the RISE Youth Housing Program, which means that YES now has more permanent and supported housing for youth in our community.
- Purchased a new building with 12 units for youth to live in, and have provided safe secure housing in this building for 2 years now.
- Developed and implemented the 211 Youth Homelessness Prevention Program, which ensures all youth in Peterborough City and County can get support to prevent their homelessness through the simple act of dialing 211 on their phone. YES staff respond and have prevented hundreds of youth over the last 3 years from becoming homeless.
- Created plans to build a new building, which has now passed site plan approval and is ready to get started as soon as YES can.
- We have developed countless partnerships in the community, that help youth and families receive the service and support they need.
- We started a financial trustee program, that helps our youth clients with money management and provides vital life skills.
- We now provide naloxone for clients who need it, and overdose prevention training.
- Provided art sessions, and different drop in options for youth to connect with positive adults and one another in the community. We even participated in a First Friday art crawl, where youth showed off their pieces
I know I am missing things in this list, but I think it is safe to say we have done everything we can to better support the youth and families who need us. This is all in addition to YES’ Emergency Shelter, Carriage House High School Classroom, Food and Clothing Cupboard, and extremely important Outreach services.
We have also made it through COVID. The last 18 months has been more challenging than I could have ever imagined. Working in homelessness is hard in good times; the youth and families we serve were struggling beyond belief before the worldwide pandemic started. COVID-19 has had severe repercussions for our clients, and staff. COVID-19 has impacted all of us, but I’m sure we can all agree that being homeless while the whole world was told to ‘stay home’ is a tragedy. The youth and families we serve are struggling more than ever before, and unfortunately I do not see this ending anytime soon.
We have witnessed severe mental health crises for youth in shelter and in our housing programs that we have had a lot of difficulty addressing. Our staff, (who are real-life superheroes) have done everything in their power, every single day, to mitigate this tragedy in our community. But this has come at a toll for each of them. Working in a frontline, emergency service organization at a time where many other organizations stayed home or changed their services to being online has led to our clients receiving far less support. It also means, our staff are at times the only support for these vulnerable people who need a lot of help.
“COVID-19 has had severe repercussions for our clients, and staff.”
Despite how hard it has been, YES has been open every single minute of every single day during this pandemic. I remember being unsure of whether this would be case back in March and April of 2020. In addition, because of our rigorous COVID safety protocols, we have not had an outbreak or any transmission in our services; again a big deal. I am so proud of the team we have had. But I ask everyone to think of these frontline workers as we emerge from this pandemic. Staff are tired, many of them burnt out, and all of them feeling an unrelenting sense of concern and fear for their clients. They will need the empathy and support of our community.
Upon my leave in September, I’m planning to take some much needed time to rest after a very difficult 18 months. My partner Alex, our dog Jack and I recently moved into the country and for the moment, I plan to enjoy more time with them, our family and friends.
I am confident that YES’ new leader will share my passion for ending youth and family homelessness in our community. I will remain a committed donor of YES’, and will always be cheering the organization on. I hope you will join me in supporting YES’ work. With your support, YES will be there to help youth and families when they need it most. If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, please contact Brooke Erickson at: firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best,