Today, the Empire State Building shares a key characteristic with the streetlamps in downtown Flint. They’ve both swapped out their regular lighting with blue bulbs as part of Lights On Afterschool, an annual rally held across the country to underscore the need to invest in afterschool programs.
Flint & Genesee Education & Talent, a division of Flint & Genesee Group, has been celebrating the initiative all month long by hosting community events at each of its YouthQuest sites. By opening its doors to the public, the program aims to show just how important it is to “keep the lights on” for students in the hours immediately following the school day.
The reasons for this are many. YouthQuest – which is provided at no-cost to students at Flint Community Schools, Flint Cultural Center Academy and International Academy of Flint – offers students a safe place to go where they can get homework help, go on field trips, participate in hands-on learning activities and eat a nutritious dinner.
That’s huge for parents and guardians, especially those who work in the hours immediately following the school day. It’s also a major benefit for our community. From our perspective at Flint & Genesee Group, YouthQuest supports our mission of strengthening our local economy and creating a place where people and businesses thrive. And one way it does this is by helping develop our talent pipeline. After all, programs like YouthQuest play an important role in preparing students for the workforce of today and tomorrow.
According to a study from the Riley Institute at Furman University, afterschool programs help students develop workforce readiness skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. In fact, 89 percent of afterschool leaders surveyed reported seeing a significant improvement in teamwork skills among students. What’s more, 81 percent reported gains in communication skills.
These numbers are supported by countless stories we hear from students in our program.
Recently, a teen told one of our employees how the program has boosted his self-esteem and sense of self. In his words, “One of the reasons why I love YouthQuest is because it’s very accepting of everybody … They’ve helped me figure out who I am.”
Beyond helping students develop soft skills, YouthQuest – which is made possible with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and 21st Century Community Learning Centers – provides an outlet where teens can explore different interests that could open them to all sorts of career paths. This year alone, YouthQuest students have created their own businesses, met with county officials and learned how to apply for grants to support service-learning projects.
That said, I hope you can join us for our remaining Lights On events, being held Oct. 28 at Southwestern Classical Academy and Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary (flintandgenesee.org). After all, it’s one thing to read about the impact of YouthQuest. It’s a completely different thing to see it for yourself.
Kristina Johnston is the COO of Flint & Genesee Group.