Connector, serving others, vibrating on high.
People’s eyes light up when they talk about Yels. In the words of her good friend and fellow Storyteller Claire Kenna, Yels is “a bloody legend who is very real, very genuine and is very sincerely passionate about making this world a better place. Yels is the friend everyone wants in their life”. There aren’t a great many people who can count themselves on the receiving end of such high praise. And she, of course, is the last person who would ever take any form of credit for it.
Before I interviewed Yels, we’d never actually met. But such is Melbourne that I knew of her, not only through her work as a DJ, but also through the multitude of community-based projects she so passionately and competently drives. Ask her about her online energy exchange platform Tit for Tat (through which I met Claire), or neighbourhood outreach initiative United Neighbours and her eyes sparkle with excitement, as she recounts all the upcoming project developments in the pipeline.
Hailing from New York, Yels moved to Australia eight years ago, and in lieu of her biological family, she has built a chosen family of friends, who form her own little tribe, and through which she is inspired by and draws her energy from on a daily basis. Community, in all its forms, is at the heart of everything Yels puts her time and soul into, and it was hard not to walk away from our chat inspired, wanting to be a better human.
With cacao in hand, we delved into the wide-spread impact Tit for Tat has had on friends, family and strangers, how her neighbourhood community is pivoting to tackle an issue close to her heart, and why cultivating connection is essential to her life.
A connector at heart, a community weaver, a space holder, a sister and friend.
What do you do and when did you decide this is what you wanted to do with your life?
I’m working on quite a few projects at the moment, but I’d say that the biggest one, my purpose project, is Tit for Tat, an online energy exchange portal. It already exists on Facebook, as communities in Melbourne and Byron Bay, but we’ve got much bigger plans than that. By the end of the year we will be releasing a Tit for Tat app, where people can put out into the universe what they want to receive – all the things that someone would love to try, or services, or products, or skills they’d like to acquire and bring into their life – and offer what they have to give back.
I truly believe everyone has something to give. We all have such unique skills and offerings that we can give each other, so why not swap those and bring more abundance and connection into our lives. That’s the goal.
In addition to that I also specialise in marketing, work on events, I’m a DJ, I do photography and I also love working on community initiatives that give back to the community.
Can you tell me about how Tit for Tat came about?
Tit for Tat came about as a result of big, inspiring conversations I was having with the people around me about what the world needs and how we can do things better.
I personally have a lot of skills that are quite exchangeable, so whether it’s marketing or photography or DJ lessons, I’ve always had a lot of friends that would come to me seeking help or advice. I was always happy to help them, but then I realised that it was a big energy and time investment. I didn’t feel comfortable charging them money for it, but knew they had something to give back to me, whether it was kinesiology or massage or haircuts or products; all these sort of things that I also wanted in my life. So we just started bartering.
Over the last two or three years, I’ve probably bartered over $10,000 worth of things or experiences with people, and it’s made such a profound impact on my life as I’ve been able to deepen connections and help my friends with whatever they’re working on. I want to bring that feeling to the greater public.
At the moment, we have a couple of small communities set up, but when the app launches it’ll go Australia-wide. Then next year we’ll open up more markets and expand globally.
I’ve had my own personal experience with Tit for Tat, but what has the feedback been like from the community?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive! I’ve never worked on a project that’s received this sort of feedback and that has resonated so well with the community. I regularly get messages from friends and acquaintances expressing the value they’ve gotten out of it. It made a huge splash, has been really positive and it continues to be that way.
Living in a very commerce-driven society, why was it important for you to encourage the practice of free trade?
One of the goals with Tit for Tat is to disrupt the way we’re conditioned to think we need to live our lives. A lot of people are stuck in the rat race of working their asses off to make ends meet to support a lifestyle that they think that they need. But the truth is that you end up working so much and trading your time for money, doing something that you potentially don’t love, and then you don’t have enough time to do the things that really matter and nourish your soul. The idea here is that you can do what you’re passionate about, and share that with others; in turn creating a beautiful human connection whilst empowering yourself and others. For me, connection is really a top value.
It also comes down to a shared economy, and I want to help give power back to the people and allow them to fuel their lives with their energy, instead of buying into the monetary system. Tit for Tat is not meant to replace the financial system entirely, but it’s meant to supplement it. I think it can really make a huge difference for people.
It goes back to the tribal way of living. Before we had currency, people traded products for products, skills and services for skills and services. We’re going back to the basics. The beauty of the idea is it’s nothing new – people have bartered since the dawn of time. But the fact that this way of life is not currently accessible to us, means it hasn’t been birthed properly into the modern age. That’s where we come in.
A lot of people I’ve spoken to recently, especially my friends having kids, are wanting to go back to that old tribal way of life, with everyone coming back together to live supportive, shared lives and help each other.
I really believe that with community, we’re stronger as a team. And with simple things such as resources – a lawnmower, for example, in this neighbourhood, everyone has to have their own lawnmower. What if we just shared one or we shared cars? We don’t all need one, and it’s unnecessary for us to all try to acquire so many material things.
We all have such unique and wonderful things to bring to the table. Through close community, we can lean on each other to fulfil each other’s needs. When it comes to kids, I truly believe it takes a village to raise a child. Which is why I’m also working on creating a tight-knit, alternative and sustainable community to facilitate the way my friends and I want to live.
Everyone I’ve spoken to has said that you love bringing people together and fostering community – where do you think this passion came from and why is it important?
I’ve always been a super social person. I’m also quite extroverted, so I’ve always liked having a lot of friends, but also creating spaces and bringing people together. Personally, I think that joy is amplified when shared; I can have a beautiful experience on my own and I can still get happiness from that. But if I can have that exact same experiences with my loved ones and my friends, then I get more out of that personally. I love sharing precious moments with others.
I think it’s intrinsic with who I am, and so that proliferates through all the projects that I work on. I also realise the gift in giving and get a lot of value from serving others. So if I can do that and rally the community to do more organised little initiatives that can make a greater impact, then that’s what drives me.
The United Neighbours Community initiative you helped organise seemed to attract a lot of volunteers. From my experience, I’ve found that many young people are wanting to find meaningful ways to give back to their local community, but don’t really know where to look – do you think this is maybe why it was successful?
So that was a really powerful exercise. The idea came about with a group of friends; we were having a chat and had started thinking about people in the community who were vulnerable or who were stuck inside during COVID, potentially really fearful and alone.
When we first put the idea into the Facebook vortex, there we’re just a few of us. But the amount of support we got quickly – people just like yourself wanted to jump in and help out. That was a beautiful exercise, because I realised that there are a lot of youth that have time and energy on their hands, that want to help, but these opportunities aren’t really presented easily to them.
For United Neighbours, we’re looking to pivot the project toward mental health. Our communities have recently been shook by isolation, loneliness and suicide. It has reminded us that mental health is a big one, especially in this time of isolation. This project is aimed to unite people so that we can better look after one another and do better as a whole to prevent people from falling through the cracks.
In later phases, Tit for Tat will also offer volunteering opportunities for people who want to share their energy that way. So nonprofits, charities, or little grassroots organisations can register all of their projects on the app, and people will be able to give back to the community much easier.
I also truly believe that the values of Tit for Tat are so aligned with helping people out of a dark place – through connection, through empowerment, and through purpose and serving others. I believe this project will hit a lot of birds with one stone and it can really truly benefit people that are in a dark place by giving them the opportunity to start to step outside of themselves to help and connect with others.
You focus a lot of energy giving to others, how do you look after yourself?
I think that’s one of the things that I’m still working on – learning how to say no. There are so many amazing people and opportunities and things to do that sometimes I do spread myself too thin. So lately I’m trying to be more mindful of channelling my energy into the things that matter the most.
I have immersed myself in this beautiful household that is full of some of the most inspiring humans that are really focused on their health. The conversations we’re having are generating real breakthroughs and growth is happening on a daily basis just within this house. I’m really grateful for that. Just living around these people is really energising for me, but finding alone time is also really important.
When it comes to self-care, I try to meditate every day, though I can’t say that I’m perfect at it. I am trying to just take it easy, read more, look after my health physically, eat well; all these things are a lot easier to do when you’ve got health freaks around!
You DJ under Sriracha and music is clearly a big part of your life. How did that evolve and what role do you think that plays in your identity and wellbeing?
Getting into DJing has been a natural progression throughout my life. I’ve always loved music and was always the one that would DJ at the party and orchestrate the tunes without technically DJing. So when I moved to Melbourne, I got involved with a group of friends that were very musically oriented, I fell in love with techno, and then my ex-partner taught me how to DJ, which I’m so grateful for. It’s a beautiful way to express yourself and share the vibrations that set your soul on fire with others.
Do you think the music community in Melbourne has had a big impact on you, both socially and as a community?
There is a thriving musical community here; it’s something that really brings people together. All my friends I’ve met through the music community, and there’s such a wide range of events happening, including a lot of conscious events, for example, The Celestial Gathering, which is run by my best friend Moe, that is so much more than just a dance party. People like him are bringing a lot more nourishing substance to events, making them beautiful meeting grounds for the best sorts of people.
I think I’ve met nearly all my best friends out or at festivals. I think because we are like-minded people – it’s not just about having the same interest in music, but it’s usually a similar way of looking at life and the universe as well.
Festivals are such an amazing, inspirational explosion of creativity and energy. And the way that you live at a festival – you’re sharing, you’re looking after your friends, you’re living together and helping each other out – these are the things that have inspired me to then take those values into my everyday life.
My mum always told me that the top five people you spend the most time with are the people that influence you the most. So you have to be very mindful of who you spend your time with. If it’s with people that bring you down or who are vibrating on a low frequency, that will naturally rub off on you. I had a rough time a couple of years ago; a time that I would say was my rock bottom. And one of the ways I climbed out of that was by surrounding myself with high vibing people.
What’s coming up for you next?
We’re working hard on Tit for Tat app development at the moment. I’m just super excited to go on this journey, and we have such big plans. We’re going to start by getting it all throughout Australia first, but then the plan is to go global. So I’m really looking forward to traveling and activating different communities with my business partner. I feel super aligned and purpose driven. It’s where I’m meant to be, and what I’m meant to be doing. And once you become aligned, everything just clicks into place.
Join the Tit for Tat Melbourne community here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/titfortatmelbourne
Join the Tit for Tat Byron Bay community here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/titfortatbyron/
Join the United Neighbours Community here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/unitedneighbours/
And follow Sriracha’s musical journey here: www.soundcloud.com/spicysriracha