It’s been just over a decade since La’Asia Johnson graduated from TeenQuest and participated in Summer Youth Initiative (SYI).
In that time, she’s earned a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University, served as a social worker and pivoted into her current career as a business owner. Presently, she’s in the process of moving Elle Jae Essentials – an all-natural skin care, hair care and beard care line – into a storefront in Flint’s University Avenue Corridor.
What’s more, she’s getting involved with SYI again. This time, however, she’s not working for the program. She’s serving as an employer.
“I’m only taking one student this year because I want to get it right,” Johnson says. “I want to cultivate almost an apprenticeship-like program for them. They’ll be working the cash register; they’ll be making the products.
“Everything I do, they’re going to do. They’re going to see what it’s like to be self-employed and are going to work in every aspect of the business.”
Below, she talks about her own experience in SYI and what she’s looking forward to this summer.
You worked for Boys & Girls Club and North End Soup Kitchen through SYI. Had you worked before?
No, Boys & Girls Club was my absolute first job that I had anywhere. And I just remember being super exited, super motivated and just – I would say – green. (Laughs) We were working with a mixed-age group, and I was always interested in working with youth. I wanted to go to school for social work once I graduated high school, so Boys & Girls Club was the No. 1 place that I wanted to interview for. I ended up getting the job, and then as the summer proceeded, I almost got fired!
Oh, no! What happened?
One of the jobs we had was working the coat closet. It was in the middle of summer, and it was hot, and I just did not want to do it. So, one day, another SYI employee said, “Well, go hide!” I did just that and hid before anyone could give me the assignment.
Well, they saw me on the camera. And my supervisor called me down and just told me, “La’Asia, I’m so disappointed.” Because I was a stellar employee. I loved my job and hadn’t had any issues up until that point. That was a great life lesson that I took with me everywhere.
(My supervisor) had told me, “This is your job whether or not you like doing it. But if there’s something you don’t like, you have to communicate that to me.” It taught me so much about communication, workplace ethic and how to operate in a situation like that.
And this summer you’re going to be serving up life lessons to SYI students yourself!
I know. I can’t wait!
Who’s your ideal SYI worker?
I’m looking for a student who’s interested in entrepreneurship, business, marketing – things that I have personal experience with and can teach them about. I sell skincare products, but I also manufacture them, so I can speak to creating your own product and bringing a vision from prototype to conception. I want to take them from start to finish.
Any advice for future TeenQuest students?
Take the program seriously. Set goals for yourself so you can track your progress. And ask questions. If you’re confused or lost about anything, ask questions.
TeenQuest and Summer Youth Initiative are made possible through the generous support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.