Mott grant helps keep kids learning after school

It was 1935 when philanthropist Charles Stewart Mott made an investment to keep six schools open after hours in his adopted hometown of Flint, Michigan. The goal: Provide area families with opportunities to learn, play and grow after the final school bell rings.

The success of that educational experiment helped breathe life into the community schools movement, which ultimately took root throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Seventy-five years after Mr. Mott made that initial grant, the foundation that bears his name remains committed to out-of-school learning — in Flint and across the country — as a pathway out of poverty.

YouthQuest, an afterschool program led by the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce, is among the important steppingstones along that path.

The chamber announced this week that YouthQuest — with the help of a one-year, $3.1 million grant from Mott — is gearing up to offer afterschool activities during the coming academic year at 15 elementary and middle schools throughout the greater Flint community. The program’s goals are to enhance participants’ academic skills; expand their knowledge and experience in such areas as the arts, culture, health, fitness and nutrition; and provide them with a safe, supportive learning environment.

Mott support for YouthQuest, which was originally launched by the United Way of Genesee County in 1998 as Bridges to the Future, has totaled $20.9 million since 2000. The chamber assumed administrative oversight of the program in June as part of a formal, long-term strategic plan.

A woman talks to a group of students in a warehouse of boxes.
YouthQuest "will help to open new doors ... for Genesee County kids and their families," notes Rhetta Hunyady (center) from the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Rick Smith

Rhetta Hunyady notes that a key strength of YouthQuest will be its integration with the chamber’s other programs targeting area kids, including Mott-funded youth development and summer employment initiatives.

“The addition of YouthQuest will position the chamber to significantly enhance the local kindergarten through 12th grade experience,” said Hunyady, group vice president of operations and employer education and training at the chamber. “Ultimately, this will help to open new doors to opportunity and success for Genesee County kids and their families.”

Research suggests that quality out-of-school learning programs can have significant impacts on children. These include improved personal, social and academic skills; stronger performance on standardized tests; more consistent school attendance; and increased likelihood of completing high school.

However, the nation’s supply of such programs falls short of the demand. The Afterschool Alliance — a longtime Mott grantee — reports that more than 25% of children in the U.S. are alone and unsupervised each day after school. And polls show that most parents would enroll their kids in an afterschool program, if one were available.

Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant notes that successful afterschool models can build broad support for out-of-school learning; offer important lessons for creating new programs and strengthening existing ones; and creating a seamless educational environment that helps kids achieve success inside — and outside — the classroom.

Girls working in an afterschool program
Studies show that quality out-of-school programs can have important impacts on children and youth.
Photo: Bonnie Jacobs

Ultimately, says Grant, programs such as YouthQuest can help young people, including those living in underserved neighborhoods, shape a new future for themselves, their communities and the nation.

“Whether students are building robots, choreographing their own musicals or calculating statistics for their favorite sports teams, high-quality afterschool programs make learning come alive,” she said. “The resulting academic, social and professional development of these kids will help determine our country’s global standing for decades to come.”

Editor’s Note: Mott funding for afterschool outside Flint focuses primarily on demonstrations, evaluations and advocacy at the state and federal levels. This includes a total of $140.2 million since 1998 for the country’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers and statewide afterschool networks.