For Program Manager James Richardson, hiring graduates of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce TeenQuest program to sort donations at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan is a no-brainer.

“The TeenQuest grads are always respectful, very disciplined and well-prepared,” Richardson said. “We very seldom have issues with laziness with these teens. They are very eager to work and bring enthusiasm to the job.”

TeenQuest is a pre-employment and leadership program for Flint & Genesee high school students ages 14-18. Graduates of the program are eligible to seek employment through the Summer Youth Initiative (SYI) job fair.

For about 10 years, the Food Bank has been employing TeenQuest graduates to sort donated canned goods and boxed food items that are then distributed to clients in 22 counties.

Jobs at nonprofits like the Food Bank help teach teens the importance of giving back, Richardson said. But it’s also an opportunity to point the workforce rookies in the right direction.

“We look at it as more of a mentoring opportunity than merely giving teens their first job,” Richardson said. “Every Friday, we bring in volunteer speakers who talk about career choices. We’ve brought in lawyers, artists, all kinds.

“This job shows them that the more they put into their education and do good things, the better. I tell them, ‘You can be a donor to this program someday instead of having to work here if you work hard.’”

Nonprofit organizations and schools that hire TeenQuest graduates are eligible for a 100 percent salary grant. For-profit businesses receive a 50-50 salary match.

Richardson said that while employing teens is sometimes challenging, he’d highly recommend hiring TeenQuest graduates.

“If you have a heart for teens and for helping and mentoring, jump into this program,” he said.

For more information regarding hiring TeenQuest graduates, contact Rhetta Hunyady, Vice President, Education and Training, Flint & Genesee Chamber, at rhunyady@flintandgenesee.org or (810) 600-1412.