Providing a safe haven for Des Moines children
(Since the publication of this piece, YESS has joined forces with Youth Homes to become Ellipsis, Iowa’s most holistic provider of youth and family support services, to continue creating positive impact across the state.)
Some children today face serious challenges within their families, including child abuse and neglect, anger and aggressive behavior, mental health issues, poverty and homelessness, substance abuse, caregiver hospitalization, and caregiver incarceration. Common to these challenges is that home isn’t a safe place, and they need a refuge—and more than a refuge, a helping hand to recover from trauma and build a better life. In Des Moines, Iowa, they can find that help at YESS.
YESS, now Ellipsis, is a cornerstone of the community
YESS, the Youth Emergency Services & Shelter of Iowa, is the largest and most comprehensive emergency shelter for kids in Iowa. YESS provides a safe haven and wraparound support to hundreds of children, newborn through age 17, per year in its emergency shelter and crisis nursery, as well as through integrated health home services. The agency has mental and behavioral health counselors and therapists who work with children and teens, whether individually, in groups, or with their families to build skills, improve quality of life, begin the process of healing, and achieve successes. YESS also has a 24-hour crisis hotline and coordinates the Safe Place program for Greater Des Moines, providing children and teens with immediate access to safety through a network of agencies, trained volunteers, and local businesses.
YESS’s framework for care focuses on acknowledging previous trauma and working to overcome it. Stephen Quirk, CEO of YESS, explains, “We have a theory around here that there’s no such thing as a bad kid. And we remind them that whatever’s happened in the past, whatever trauma they’re dealing with now, they can move on and they can move ahead, so we’re really a strength-based organization.”
Microsoft provides much more than funding
YESS partners with a variety of community leaders and organizations and relies on a network of dedicated volunteers to help carry out its mission. Among those partners, Microsoft has been supporting YESS since 2013. Julie Schneider, Chief Advancement Officer (CAO) for YESS, says, “Microsoft is one of the very few organizations that I can say is involved with YESS in all that we do. I think that Microsoft and its employees have really embraced YESS, through the donations of technology, and then Microsoft employees also come and volunteer with the kids. Kids need to know that people care about them, and it shines with the Microsoft folks.”
Employees from the local Microsoft datacenter and Microsoft Store have volunteered for a variety of activities. From helping to prepare 40,000 rubber ducks with numbers for the annual YESS Duck Derby, to participating as human elements of a life-size foosball game, the volunteers have helped YESS raise funds to ensure it can keep providing all the services the children need.
But the Microsoft employees also have taken a more direct role in helping the children, such as arranging Xbox game nights and going to the shelter to play games and hang out with the youths. Activities like these provide the kids with positive connections to caring adults and the everyday sort of fun that helps them overcome the difficulties they’re dealing with. Frank De Merie, the local Microsoft Store Community Manager and a volunteer at YESS, says, “We wanted to create a culture here about learning. Just because [the kids] are in a situation that maybe they don’t have a stable home, doesn’t mean that they can’t have the opportunity to grow. And we realized that we could be those teachers in their lives, we could be those counselors, we could help them.”
“Microsoft is one of the very few organizations that I can say is involved with YESS in all that we do. I think that Microsoft and its employees have really embraced YESS, through the donations of technology, and then Microsoft employees also come and volunteer with the kids. Kids need to know that people care about them, and it shines with the Microsoft folks.”—Julie Schneider, Chief Advancement Officer (CAO) for YESS
Technology is making a difference
In connection with the 2015 opening of a 19,000 square foot addition to the existing facility, Microsoft provided a substantial donation of technology outfitting the entire shelter—from Surface devices for the different care units, to projectors and big-screen TVs in the community gathering place, to server components and software for administrative work. Microsoft employees also provide training for staff on all the new applications as well. With these technology upgrades, YESS can work more efficiently to provide more and better help for the children in its care.
For example, the Surface devices help the staff not only with creating and managing the electronic health records for the children and coordinating their care, but also with providing psychiatric care through a telemedicine project in conjunction with Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. Through this project, in a crisis situation, the children can get the immediate advanced help they need, while the medical team at Mercy can observe the situation in real time and provide better treatment. With the encryption services and other security and privacy features of the Surface devices and Microsoft Azure cloud services, YESS is also able to maintain HIPAA compliance.
With the assistance of partners like Microsoft and the modern technologies it provides, as well as volunteer assistance from its employees, YESS is better equipped to help the community it serves. “YESS works to give kids and families a chance and help them succeed at home, at school, and beyond. And I think that goes right along with what Microsoft does in trying to help people all across the planet to achieve more,” says Schneider. “So Microsoft does it through software and technology, we do it through caring and helping kids and families heal, and together, we’re doing it better.”
Sadly, the problems faced by these children and their families are not unique to Des Moines. In addition to continuing its partnership with YESS to help the children of Iowa, Microsoft is looking to partner with similar organizations in other communities around the world.
“So Microsoft does it through software and technology, we do it through caring and helping kids and families heal, and together, we're doing it better.”—Julie Schneider, Chief Advancement Officer (CAO) for YESS