Summer Youth Initiative: Real-World Experience in a Variety of Career Paths

A SYI student looks at a laptop with an employer in an outdoor stage venue.

Currently, at Harvest Theatre Company, a group of young people are preparing for a showing of “Othello: The Remix” later this month. They’re running lines, taking costume measurements, learning how to DJ – basically everything it takes to bring a musical to life on stage. And, because these students are TeenQuest graduates participating in the Summer Youth Initiative, or SYI, they’re earning a paycheck while they do it.

“I’ve learned so much from my 20-plus year in theatre,” says the founder of Harvest Theatre Company, who goes by one name – Harvey. “It taught me about public speaking, confidence and self-discipline. I’m excited for these students to get that experience and see that they can make a living in the arts.”

Harvest Theatre Company, located inside Urban Renaissance Center, is one of 27 employers partnering with SYI this year to offer area teens real-world experience in variety of industries and career paths. For some, that’s the arts. For others, it’s youth development.

At Genesee County Community Action Resource Department, or GCCARD, the work is all about eliminating barriers and level the playing field for the underserved populations of Flint and Genesee County. Specifically, that includes that includes supporting the agency’s Meals on Wheels, Meet Up and Eat Up programs, commodities distribution as well as other services.

According to Shardae Davis, director of GCCARD’s Neighborhood Services Center, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. Not only does this help the community action agency feed more than 1,600 people a day, it gives the SYI participants important exposure to community needs.

“When students work here, they are a county employee,” Davis says. “By the time they’re done with the program, they can say they have experience working for a municipality. That could lead to future jobs in any of our departments, which range from the parks to the courts.”

That sentiment is echoed by RJ Kaplan, the SYI coordinator for Beecher Community Schools, which places SYI students at employers that include Hurley Medical Center, Beecher Water Department and Roma’s Pizzeria & Restaurant, to name a few.

“This isn’t just about getting a summer job – it’s about connecting to a network,” Kaplan says. “One of SYI workers expressed interest in owning his own janitorial business one day, so we placed him with the janitorial business that serves Beecher Community Schools. That’s huge.”

At Mott Community College, SYI jobs range from supporting the Human Resources department to assisting with campus grounds beautification. According to Daphne Epps, director of the college’s Youth Services, her team asks a variety of questions to determine where students will make the most impact.

“We want to build their confidence and tap into a gift or skills they might not even realized they had,” Epps says. “Our goal is to take these young adults and develop them into young professionals.”

Collectively, roughly 200 TeenQuest alumni are gaining valuable work experience with both the aforementioned employers as well as those listed below:

  • Asbury Community Development Corporation
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flint and Genesee County
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint
  • Catholic Charities of Shiawassee & Genesee Counties
  • Communities First, Inc.
  • Davison Township Parks and Recreation
  • Developing Respectful Educated Aspiring Minds with Sports
  • Elle Jae Essentials
  • Flint Children’s Museum
  • Flint Downtown Development Authority
  • Flint Freedom Schools Collaborative
  • Flint Fresh Mobile Market
  • Flint Institute of Music
  • Flint Public Library
  • Flint River Watershed Coalition
  • Food Bank of Eastern Michigan
  • Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission
  • Goodwill Industries of Mid-Michigan
  • International Academy of Flint
  • KD Johnsons
  • Motherly Intercession
  • Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village
  • The Chosen Few Arts Council

To learn more about SYI, visit

TeenQuest and Summer Youth Initiative are made possible through the generous support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.