For Haylee Sweeney, participating in TeenQuest was a crucial step toward her future.

“Before I participated in TeenQuest, I thought I would end up with a mediocre job,” says Sweeney, who graduated in 2017 from Lakeville Memorial High School.

Thankfully for Sweeney, that didn’t happen. Instead, through Summer Youth Initiative, she worked for Genesee County Parks at Genesee Otter Lake Campground for three years. And when she discovered an opening at For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum in Burton, she leaped at the opportunity.

“When I interviewed for For-Mar, it sounded perfect,” Sweeney says. “Using the skills that TeenQuest gave me, I was able to speak up and speak out in my group interview. I shared the leadership skills I learned working at the campground and got the job right away!”

Although Sweeney’s intended career was a veterinarian, she changed her mind after seeing the work that her fellow naturalists were doing. Now, in addition to working at For-Mar, Sweeney is attending Mott Community College, where she is studying to become a wildlife biologist.

Learn more about Sweeney’s work below.

What is your favorite part about your job?

Connecting kids with nature. When I work with kids, I feel like I am giving back—like I am doing something that matters.

What was your most memorable moment in TeenQuest/SYI?

One of the biggest things was volunteering. All summer long I felt like I was a part of something. Then, at the volunteer day, I got a greater sense of fulfillment.

Have you continued volunteering?

Through For-Mar, I work at community gardens in Flint. We donate to the food we harvest to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. We always have the kids try different vegetables. One time, a little girl cried after I gave her a piece of broccoli because she had never eaten it before and she was so excited to try it.

What is your biggest accomplishment since TeenQuest?

Becoming a naturalist at For-Mar. When I first started working here, I was just an assistant. But I quickly worked my way up, and now I am teaching and leading programs.

What advice would you give to current TeenQuest students?

Take TeenQuest seriously and absorb all the information given to you. TeenQuest gave me so much. This is a program that helps teens learn the tools and gain the initiative they need to get a job. It shapes minds in such a good way.

TeenQuest and Summer Youth Initiative are made possible through the generous support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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