SYI: More Than Just a Summer Job

A group of nine teenagers wearing shorts and t-shirts pose for the photo. Some have masks covering their mouths and noses and other have the masks pulled down to show their smiles.

Through Summer Youth Initiative (SYI), students get on-the-job experience working at organizations and businesses in Flint and Genesee County each summer. However, for some of these summer workers, their experience extends into the fall.

“When our SYI partners have employments needs and students have a positive experience, we like to extend that partnership as long as we can,” says James Avery, director of Talent Development at Flint & Genesee Education & Talent, a division of Flint & Genesee Group that administers TeenQuest and SYI.

One employer who is continuing to employ teens into the fall is Genesee County Parks, specifically For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum. Nicole Ferguson, park naturalist at For-Mar, shares that she always has a positive experience with the TeenQuest grads she works with.

“I’ve been with the program for eight years, and we always have incredibly qualified and passionate students,” says Ferguson. “Anytime we have the ability to keep students on, we give them the option.”

One of those students is Ta’Shala Taylor, a recent graduate from Carman-Ainsworth High School who is entering her first year at Mott Community College. She is studying general education with plans to transfer to Wayne State University for mortuary science.

“I decided to continue my employment with For-Mar while I attend college because it has been one of the best places I have worked,” says Taylor. “I am grateful for my coworkers and supervisors who are accommodating, respect my availability and very understanding.”

Another employer that plans to continue its successful summer with students into the fall is Chosen Few Arts Council. Valorie Horton, co-director of the organization, has been happy with the high-quality work completed by students from the SYI program. This year, she hired back some of the students she worked with last year because of their work ethic and familiarity with the organization’s program.

“The students are self-starters and have great ideas,” says Horton. “The kids at our program love them. We are getting return students who are excited to see our SYI employees when they walk in the door.”

One aspect that Chosen Few Arts Council has implemented while working with SYI students is to have them take ownership of the organization’s programs and to implement students’ ideas when possible.

“I am a very independent person, and it is nice to work for an employer who isn’t micromanaging what we do,” says Kalayia Tomlin who works for Chosen Few Arts Council through SYI. “I think we are younger and can relate to the kids better, so we know what they want most of the time.”

For more information on Summer Youth Initiative, visit

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