How Mott Connects Extended Learning Priorities With Flint Water Crisis

If any city could use some good news these days, it's Flint, Michigan. We've written in the past about the city's water crisis and the role that funders could play in the recovery effort. Flint's water problem, in which a combination of degraded infrastructure and a switch to different water supply caused lead from water pipes to poison the city's water supply, is just the latest in a series of woes for a city already struggling with concentrated poverty and the loss of much of its industrial base over the past several decades.

A number of funders have stepped forward to pledge their support to help Flint recover from its water crisis, most prominent among them the locally based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which alone pledged up to $100 million in the coming years toward recovery. Recently, it announced $4 million in grants for local after-school and summer learning programs. These programs will offer academic, social, and youth employment support, as well as link children and families with vital services in the wake of the water situation.

It will be no secret to readers of this space that Mott is an enthusiastic funder of after-school and summer learning programs. This latest round of grants in that area help the funder connect a strategic funding priority with its commitment to help its home city cope with this latest crisis.

Flint school children affected by lead exposure will require help for years to come — help that carries a hefty price tag sure to tax an already struggling school system. The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this year that children in Flint have higher rates of special education needs and cognitive disabilities than the state as a whole. While these problems can be attributed to multiple factors other than lead, the school system is sure to face additional challenges for years to come because of the number of children with possible lead exposure from the city's water system. Lead exposure has been associated with developmental delays, academic problems, and behavioral issues.

The largest in this new round of grants awarded by Mott — $3.1 million to YouthQuest — will include training for program staff in how to identify possible health, developmental, and behavioral problems related to lead exposure. YouthQuest is a comprehensive after-school program that offers academic, enrichment, and physical fitness opportunities at no charge to K-12 students. It also operates a summer program.

Mott also awarded $825,000 to the Summer Youth Initiative (SYI) and TeenQuest. SYI connects Flint high school students with summer employment opportunities, and TeenQuest provides youth leadership and pre-employment training. Both programs are offered to Flint-area youth between the ages of 14 and 19.

The third grant awarded by Mott is $87,000 to the Summer Tot Lot Program, a summer program that prepares children ages 4 and 5 for their first year of school. Research has shown that students with kindergarten readiness are more likely to be successful in later years of schooling. 

The water crisis in Flint has certainly created an "all hands on deck" moment for the city and funders who have committed their support. While no one program on its own will solve the problem, these grants from Mott represent the funder's continued commitment to helping its home city. More important, it shows an understanding on Mott's part of the long-term challenges that this crisis poses for Flint's most vulnerable population.