YouthQuest, a no-cost after-school enrichment program operated by the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, celebrated its tenth anniversary in July. “This is a huge milestone!” exclaims Nefertari Jones, Program Director. “We are a mainstay and still going strong!”
YouthQuest provides after-school activities that focus on: academic support, enrichment, physical fitness and healthy behaviors, nutrition education, youth development and leadership, and family and community engagement in the Flint Community Schools (11 schools) and the International Academy of Flint – a charter school located in the Flint city limits.
According to the program director, the after-school program was originally launched by the United Way of Genesee County in 1998 as Bridges to the Future. The Flint & Genesee Chamber assumed administrative oversight of that program which was rebranded as YouthQuest in July 2010. The program is made possible with generous support of 21st Century Community Learning Centers and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
“Over the past decade, YouthQuest has provided a safe space for students to explore new interests and connect with peers and mentors,” says Jones. “Now, it also offers stability and a sense of normalcy during a very uncertain time. Our students need that now more than ever.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the program. When face-to-face learning was suspended earlier this year, YouthQuest began offering remote learning and enrichment opportunities through the remainder of the school year as well as during the summer. The program also provided more than 450 families with school supplies to support their learning at home. “We have continued to serve remotely,” says the director.
The Flint Community Schools resumed remote learning on August 5 and YouthQuest started remote learning on August 17. “We wanted the kids to get acclimated to school, so we started a little later,” Jones explains. At the International Academy of Flint, school resumed in-person on August 31. YouthQuest will also offer the option to choose remote learning for families who feel hesitant about sending their kids back to school.
To prevent burnout from too much screen time, the YouthQuest virtual sessions will be shorter than the on-site program, which typically runs three hours, she reports. YouthQuest also provided at-home activity packets, which families can also follow alone if they prefer not to participate virtually. “We want to meet our students and families where they are, so adaptability is key,” Jones says. Students who don’t have access to technology or the internet were sent at-home learning kits to give them the opportunity to continue their education.
Jones is proud of YouthQuest’s innovative programming, offering classes such as Sign Language, Bollywood Dance, Math Games, Story Hour and Life Skills. “Life Skills teaches kids how to do things like clean their rooms or make an omelet in the microwave if their parents aren’t there to cook,” she explains.
YouthQuest is making a big impact. Some students participated in the GISD Virtual Pitch Competition, and YouthQuest was the only after school-program asked to participate. “Five of our students placed in the final competition and two won top prizes,” she adds.
With a dedicated staff consisting of teachers and community residents, YouthQuest is always looking for more. “We have a diverse group,” Jones shares, adding that all staff members are paid and all are vetted. “We are still looking for passionate people to join our team,” she says. “It is an opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of our students. We’re definitely making an impact and that is our goal.”
YouthQuest offers 32 weeks of programming during the school year and six weeks in the summer. “It’s a phenomenal program,” says the porgram director. “Working for YouthQuest is an honor and a privilege for me.”