Since 2011, Flint’s Helping Young People to Employment (HYPE) Program has provided hundreds of teenagers with vital skills that helped them get and keep jobs. At its core, though, the program starts with simply instilling confidence.
“I am a shy person, so I gained the confidence to speak up and be more assertive,” said 18-year-old Zaria Blade, a recent graduate of both the HYPE program and Flint Southwestern Academy. “It made me comfortable answering interview questions and being myself.”
The eight-week afterschool program provides training and education to approximately 75 students per year. The program is managed by Faith Foundation Resources, a nonprofit that connects people with resources to help them improve their lives.
Since 2018, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has granted a total of $157,500 to support the HYPE Program.
Angela Lots, executive director of Faith Foundation Resources, said that the goals of the HYPE Program are twofold: job readiness and job placement. The program has a 98% job placement rate in a variety of positions, including service industry and retail jobs, maintenance and cleaning jobs, and other types of entry-level work. Lots notes that 95% of the students who participate are still employed six months after completing the program.
“That 16– to 17-year-old age range is a sweet spot,” Lots said. “We are catching them right when they’re starting out their careers. It changes their mindset early on. The earlier you start to work, the more likely you are to build that bedrock for your employment career.”
The HYPE Program is run at four locations: Flint Southwestern Academy, Hamady High School, Academy West Alternative Education and the Kennedy Center. Each week of the program has a different theme and goal.
Week one provides an introduction, including a discussion of learning styles and the attributes of a good employee. Week two gets students thinking about how to talk about and market their individual skill sets to employers, including creating a 60-second commercial about themselves. Week three focuses on interviewing skills. Week four provides computer training and résumé writing skills. Week five is focused on peer reviews and feedback. Weeks six and seven provide information on personal finances, including banking, saving money, and establishing and maintaining credit. The final week includes mock interviews with human resources and hiring managers from companies that partner with the program.
Sessions are announced on the Faith Foundation Resources website, where there is an online application for interested students or parents to fill out and submit. The current session started on Feb. 2, 2021, but students can register through Feb. 20. The session after that will begin on April 21.
Tia Thomas’ son Karhai, a Flint Southwestern student, recently completed the program. She said she noticed a big improvement in his confidence and ability to find a job.
“I definitely would tell other parents that if your child is old enough to attend, it will really help out with jobs,” she said. “He (Kahari) gained more confidence. He’s shy and introverted, but he really came out of his shell. It teaches you about things you go through with supervisors or peers and gives skills that you’ll use over a lifetime.”
The program is open to students ages 16-24, with high school students required to have at least a 2.0 grade point average. There are at least four sessions per year, with about 15 participants per session to allow for more individualized instruction. Students meet for three to four hours per week, and they complete assignments throughout the course to help them apply what they’re learning to real-life situations.
The HYPE program already has helped Blade gain professional experience and use it to move into a job closer to what her career goals are. She started off working in retail but was then able to get a job in a nursing home. The program helped Blade secure interviews with employer partners for both positions.
“I want to either do hair or work in a daycare program for adults and children,” she said. “The (HYPE) program was very hands-on. I highly recommend it.”
A class of students completed the program in the winter, with some modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were still able to meet in person, but they followed strict social distancing guidelines and wore masks, and the facilities had strict cleaning protocols. The program temporarily suspended some things that are usually common to the job interviewing process, such as shaking hands, but students were able to practice using virtual tools that have become more common in job searches during the pandemic.
There are also check-ins with graduates of the program every three months to see how they’re doing in their jobs. According to Lots, one of the most rewarding aspects of the program is hearing from students who get recognitions or promotions.
“It feeds me,” Lots said. “It makes me feel like we are producing the next generation of productive citizens. It is wonderful to see young people get a good start.”