Flint summer programs serve up fun and keep skills sharp

A girl stands in front of a wall of bright green pool noodles at the Flint Farmers' Market.
Experts agree that children who are engaged in high quality summer programs gain skills, while those who do not often slide backward. Photo: Rick Smith

Typically viewed as a time for rest and relaxation, the long days of summer can present challenges for families and children looking to fill those hours with safe, engaging activities that won’t stretch tight budgets. High-quality programming is particularly critical for school-age kids who might otherwise fall victim to the “summer slump,” which could hurt their academic performance when they return to school in the fall.

According to new research from the Afterschool Alliance’s forthcoming report, “America After 3PM,” one out of every three families in the United States reports that at least one child took part in a summer learning program in 2013. That’s up from one out of four families in 2009. But the report also finds that, with an average weekly cost of $250, summer learning opportunities remain out of reach for many children and families.

In Flint, families are coping with this challenge by utilizing a variety of free and low-cost programs available throughout Genesee County. For almost 80 years, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has funded activities for local children and young people — and this summer is no exception.

“Supporting summer programs in our home community has always been a priority for the Foundation,” said Kimberly Roberson, director of the Flint Area grantmaking team.

“C.S. Mott believed in the importance of keeping children and young people busy, healthy and engaged in productive activities, and we’ve worked to honor that legacy by partnering with local agencies to provide programming that is fun, and in many cases, helps keep academic skills sharp as well.”

To help make summer programs available to more children and families across Genesee County, the Mott Foundation awarded almost $1.5 million in direct grants to local universities and nonprofits. Those grants include:

Tot Lot: Possibly the granddaddy of all summer programs, the Flint Community Schools Tot Lot program has been helping 4- and 5-year-old children become socially and academically prepared for school for more than 60 years. This year, Tot Lot will be offered in 12 schools, five days a week for six hours a day, from July 7 through August 8.

Teen CEO Initiative: A seven-week entrepreneurial learning and leadership experience for 45 young people ages 14-18, Teen CEO has operated out of Mott Community College each summer since 2007. Mentored by local business professionals, the students identify a business idea, develop a business plan and learn how to make their idea operational. Upon completion of the program, 15 participants are eligible to receive $1,000 in seed capital to launch their businesses.

Summer Youth Initiative: This initiative of the Genesee Area Focus Fund is another long-running program that provides job training and employment for area teens. It serves more than 600 students through its TeenQuest pre-employment training program and helps more than 500 of these students in grades nine through 12 find employment each year.

A graphic indicates that the cost of summer learning programs can be a barrier for families.

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Flint: Offering year-round programming for more than 3,500 children ages 7-17, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Flint focuses on activities that increase children’s academic skills, creativity and physical fitness. Summer enrichment programs are offered at Flint’s Haskell Community Center and at the Boys & Girls Club on Averill Avenue.

YouthQuest: Better known for its afterschool programs in 18 sites at all Flint Community Schools, two elementary schools in Carman-Ainsworth, and the International Academy of Flint, YouthQuest also serves approximately 1,000 students through six weeks of summer programming. Operated through the Genesee Area Focus Fund, YouthQuest provides a variety of academic, enrichment, leadership and physical fitness activities to help students stay sharp and prepare for the coming school year.

Pre-College Summer Residential and Academic Year Bridge Program: Piloted in 2010, this program for students in the Flint, Beecher and Westwood Heights school districts adds a new cohort of 45 ninth-grade students each year. This year, 230 students entering grades eight through 12 will engage in summer activities. Those numbers will more than double during the academic year, when 520 students in grades six through 12 will participate in programming. Participants take part in a range of academic activities designed to help them complete high school and prepare for the transition to college.

In addition to these programs, the Mott Foundation also supports year-round and summer activities for area families through grants to the Genesee County Parks & Recreation Commission and the Flint Cultural Center, including the Flint Public Library.