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Summer Youth Initiative Partnership Teaches Teens Job, Life Skills at Food Bank of Eastern Michigan

SYI students Davonte Coleman and Ahmari Davis.

Four years ago, Davonte Coleman spent his first summer working at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan as part of the Flint & Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Summer Youth Initiative (SYI) program. Coleman quickly realized the importance of work he and other teens were doing.

“You get to see the difference you are making and how you’re helping people in need,” Coleman said. 

Now, after spending four straight summers working at the Food Bank, Coleman has not only learned many job skills from the assignments he’s had, he’s also played a leadership role, assisting Food Bank staff in working with the more than 60 SYI students employed this summer.

“Most of our SYI kids start here never having worked before,” said Keri Brack, Food Bank of Eastern Michigan volunteer coordinator, who oversees the program. “You get to see them learn new things and grow up before your eyes.”

Students like Coleman, who return to the Food Bank each summer, are invaluable in helping acclimate other students to the many jobs ranging from food sorting and repacking to grounds and maintenance to assisting with clerical tasks in the office.

“I help train people and am like a go-to guy for everything,” Coleman said. “I really like the responsibility.”

Coleman graduated from Atherton High School in June and plans to attend Mott Community College to study business. An avid shoe collector, he hopes to one day combine that passion with his desire to give back to the community. 

“I want to make shoes that people like, but also ones that kids can afford and sell them for lower prices,” he said.

The SYI program is open through the Chamber to Genesee County who complete specific requirements and then are hired by area nonprofit organizations and businesses for summer work. The Food Bank has partnered to hire SYI students for 16 years.

“SYI students make a tremendous impact on our organization,” said Kara Ross, Food Bank of Eastern Michigan President and CEO. “It is amazing to see the job skills they develop, but even more rewarding to see them grasp the role they can play in serving their community and assisting those in need.”

Ahmari Davis, a 10th grader from the Carman-Ainsworth School District, is in his first year in the SYI program. Although he’s done previous work in the summers mowing lawns, this is his first summer job.

“I’ve already learned better communication skills, how to work on a team, and how to take initiative,” Davis said. “It’s a really good environment here and I plan to come back and work here again.”

Hundreds of students have worked for the Food Bank through the SYI program and, upon graduating, gone on to various roles in the Flint community and beyond. While at the Food Bank, they provide a vital role in getting food ready for distribution to partners in our 22 county service area.

“They significantly increase our ability to get product out,” Brack said. “They learn how to do manual labor, the importance of a strong work ethic, and get many opportunities to try new things and learn new skills.”

“It’s a wonderful place to work, especially for a first job,” Coleman said. “You get a lot of real work experience.”

The Food Bank serves more approximately 331,500 people and moves nearly 30 million pounds of food per year. The SYI students play an up-close role in the operational aspects of the Food Bank, ensuring that food is able to get to hungry people in our communities. They also work side-by-side with some of the nearly 7,000 volunteers who work shifts at the Food Bank each year.

“We all know someone who needs help,” Brack said. “The SYI kids all get to see the impact of the Food Bank and the difference their work makes in our community.”