Despite the technological challenges, and obstacles to learning and teaching remotely, the Chamber was still able to offer a continuum of educational services that prepare students and the future workforce for jobs of today and tomorrow.
The personal touch for students, educators and parents was paramount in helping all parties adapt to an ever-changing learning environment.
YouthQuest (YQ), in partnership with Flint Community Schools (FCS) and International Academy of Flint (IAF), pivoted quickly during COVID-19 to provide 450 families with school supplies and over 500 students per month on average with remote learning opportunities. YQ also worked with FCS and the Community Education Initiative (CEI) to host informational webinars and parent chats for the local community. YQ assisted with IAF’s weekly food distributions and food drives at several FCS schools, and contributed to the CEI’s sports activity packs and self-care boxes that went out to thousands of Flint families during the pandemic.
The YQ Biz Youth Entrepreneurship program also continued during COVID-19 with high school students competing in a countywide pitch competition, producing five district-level winners and two county finalists. In addition, 95 participants attended YQ’s virtual self-care workshop held to support the social emotional needs of afterschool educators.
The disruptions stemming from COVID-19 did not stop YQ from commemorating a major milestone in 2020. The afterschool program hosted a 10-year anniversary, socially distanced celebration at US 23 Drive-In Theatre with more than 750 community members in attendance. TeenQuest, the Chamber’s pre-employment and training program, graduated 161 students via a virtual ceremony. All facilitators were trained for the new virtual approach, virtually. Summer Youth Initiative (SYI) Job Fair interviews between hiring agencies and students were conducted, as planned, online. The E&T division also established new relationships and retained existing partnerships with area nonprofits and for-profits through SYI employment opportunities. Nineteen nonprofits provided summer programs, while adhering to established safety protocols.
The Career Edge program, which was created for adults new to the job market or returning to the job market, established new partnerships with Educare, Genesee Intermediate School District Head Start, New Paths, Flint Housing Commission and AmeriCorps. The new partners bring with them a captive audience of individuals who are often left out of job-preparedness programs. Many of these individuals are not regarded as “completely disconnected” from the workforce, so they must seek programs to acquire employability skills or enhancing of those skills.
The Opportunity Youth Coalition, which is comprised of local nonprofit leaders, workforce development representatives and concerned citizens, expanded from 25 to 29 partners, with new members: Mt. Morris Schools; Hope Network; Genesee County Sheriff’s Department; and the Hurley Hospital Trauma Unit. The coalition develops strategies to combat issues faced by “Opportunity Youth,” or young people ages 16-24, who are disconnected from education or employment for different reasons. The coalition creates opportunities for employers who need workers and for the young people seeking more success by providing them with support services, workforce training and/or education.
These new partners broaden the Chamber’s connection with disconnected young people in the community. Collaborating with these local law enforcement programs allows for the expanded Coalition to support a potential wraparound service for these youth as well.
In addition, emergency relief grant funds from the Aspen Institute were used to assist young people, providing them with items needed due to challenges presented by the pandemic, such as bus passes, clothing, flash drives and school supplies. This is the first time Aspen has allowed funds to go directly to young people.
At the close of 2020, there were 140 students enrolled in local colleges and universities using the Flint Promise Scholarship. Communication and coordination between the Chamber’s Flint Promise team and the higher education partners, helped to identify opportunities to help students stay in school, despite a challenging environment, including:
Overall program support shifted as well. Success coaches, who went completely virtual, made a point to regularly check in with students to see how they were doing not just academically, but also emotionally and mentally. Together, staff and partners proved yet again that Flint Promise is more than a scholarship—rather, it’s a support system for Flint students.
Amid the unprecedented challenges of the past year, the Chamber’s commitment to developing a skilled workforce remained as strong as ever. The lessons learned will continue to guide the actions of the Education & Training division well into the future.