(FLINT, Mich., July 6, 2020) Despite the fact that teen unemployment stood at 29.9 percent in May 2020—more than double what it was at the same time last year—the coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping nearly 260 teens from working in Genesee County through the Summer Youth Initiative, or SYI. However, it has prompted some changes to the summer employment program, which is offered through the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.
Specifically, all 22 employers participating in the program are required to follow COVID-19 workplace guidelines provided by the State of Michigan. This means ensuring that all teens wear personal protective equipment, or PPE, and implementing social distancing protocols.
Because of this, some employers have had to reduce the number of students they employ this year. For instance, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, or FBEM, normally hires more than 60 SYI teens each summer; this year, the agency opted to hire just over 20 students to ensure a safer working space.
These safety measures have helped ease the minds of teen workers, including Ahmari Davis, a TeenQuest graduate who has worked at FBEM for two consecutive summers.
“Normally, the Food Bank works with a ton of volunteers, and I was a little nervous about that—you don’t always know who they are or if they’ve been taking the necessary precautions,” said Davis, who’s entering his junior year at Carman Ainsworth High School. “But then I found out that the organization is limiting volunteers for a while, and that helped ease my nerves. They’re making our health and safety a priority.”
Given the reduction of volunteers, the SYI program has been especially beneficial for the Food Bank, where student employees help sort food donations, build nutrition bags, fulfill orders from partner agencies and create meals for the Summer Feeding Program.
“Even with the challenges the pandemic brings, it’s important that we continue to provide this opportunity for our teens,” said Keri Brack, volunteer coordinator at the Food Bank. “How are they going to learn how to work through things if we don’t give them a chance?”
That sentiment is echoed by James Avery, director of Education & Training at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re hopeful these students can look back on this experience and know they’re prepared to take on whatever challenges they face down the road,” Avery said. “This is an opportunity to show resilience and build perseverance.”
According to Avery, the program’s motto has been “safety first” this year and all employers are being especially diligent. He adds that there are contingencies in place in the case that an SYI student is exposed to someone with coronavirus. After being immediately released from on-site work, the student would connect with SYI staff to create a virtual work plan so they can still gain valuable experience without exposing others to the virus as well.
The complete list of SYI employers include Asbury Community Development, Beecher Community School District, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flint and Genesee County, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint, Catholic Charities Mr. Gaines, Catholic Charities NESK Summer Camp, Chosen Few Arts Council – Camp Berston, City of Flint Blight Elimination, Clio Area Schools, Communities First, Flint Children’s Museum, Flint Housing Commission, Flint Public Library, Flint River Watershed, Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, GCCARD, Goodwill Industries, International Academy of Flint, Michigan Community Services, Inc., Motherly Intercession, Mott Community College and Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village.
SYI is open to students who have completed TeenQuest, a pre-employment and leadership training program that teaches participants how to “stand up and stand out” in the 21st century workplace. TeenQuest is currently accepting registrations for its virtual summer program, which begins July 6, at flintandgenesee.org/teenquest. The summer program is open to Genesee County students entering grades 10-12 in the 2020-21 school year.
To learn more about SYI, visit flintandgenesee.org/syi.
About the Summer Youth Initiative and TeenQuest
The Summer Youth Initiative is a program that helps Flint-area teens find paid summer jobs. It’s open to students who’ve completed the TeenQuest afterschool program, which provides pre-employment and leadership training to students ages 14 to 19 to help them succeed in college and the 21st century workplace. Both programs are administered by the Genesee Area Focus Fund, a supporting organization of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ruth Mott Foundation, Hagerman Foundation and other generous funders. To apply or learn more, visit www.flintandgenesee.org/teenquest.