In college, Amario Payton-Rice began his academic career studying physical therapy. But during his studies, he felt like there was something missing.

When his grandmother developed cancer, he saw the limitations it caused, and they weren’t going to be cured with physical or occupational therapy. That is when he discovered recreational therapy, the practice of using leisure activities to address the needs of individuals with illnesses or disabling conditions.

“My job is to provide interventions for people with disabilities to allow them to live a more independent life,” says Payton-Rice. “These interventions are social, spiritual and physical.”

Today, Payton-Rice works as a program coordinator for the Genesee County Parks Keep Genesee County Beautiful Program. He graduated from Alabama State University with a degree in recreation therapy allegiant studies and is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist.

However, he aspires to teach recreation therapy at the collegiate level.

“I want to show students that there is more than just physical and occupational therapy,” says Payton-Rice. “So, I will continue my work in the public sector while pursuing my Ph.D. in higher education.”

Below, learn about the Hamady High School graduate’s journey to his current position and how Summer Youth Initiative (SYI) helped him on his way.

What does your typical workday look like?

I act as a liaison between Genesee County Parks, community leaders and organizations improving parks around Genesee County. Most recently, we built six parks with the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, United Way and Make an Impact Foundation. I help plan for accessibility in the parks and I also act as the Adopt-a-Park coordinator.

You attended an out-of-state college. Why did you come back to Flint after graduation?

I wanted to give back to the community what I had gained in school.

How did SYI help you on your journey?

In college, my major was very team-oriented – everything we did was in groups. I took the team-building and communications skills I learned through SYI and was able to thrive in my program.

What is a memorable moment from SYI?

Working with children and having the opportunity to show them that there is more to do in the community than being involved in at-risk activities.

What advice would you give to current TeenQuest students?

Stick to the plan and learn as much as you can. These are transferable skills that you can take with you and use for the rest of your life.

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

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