Summer youth employment program aims to engage more employers and youth in fifth year

SummerWorks, also known as the Washtenaw County Summer Youth Employment Program, is currently accepting applications until the middle of March for its fifth year.


A collaboration between Michigan Works! Association, the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED), and the University of Michigan,

the 10-week initiative connects local youth (ages 16-24) with area employers.


The program was previously dubbed Summer17, Summer18, and Summer19. OCED director Teresa Gillotti explains that the name change stems from an effort to streamline certain aspects of the initiative.


"When it started in the summer of 2016 there was a Drake song called 'Summer Sixteen'. We liked that it was connected with something that the youth who would be in our program could reference," Gillotti says. "But after we kept having to change the website every year we decided we needed to standardize things."


She stresses that the core features of the program remain unchanged. Youth participants must go through a "Soft Skills Academy" and attend a series of professional development sessions. This year they are expected to work a minimum of 20 hours per week from June 15 to Aug. 21.


About 100 young people have participated each year. Organizers want to increase that number to 125-130 this year.


Organizers also want to focus on engaging employers from a broader range of sectors so youth get more varied career mentorship and exposure.


Employers who are interested in getting on board are encouraged to attend one of two upcoming mixers to hear from companies and organizations that have been involved in past years.


"We've had a version of these mixers before, but they were more like orientations," Gillotti says. "This year employers can talk to folks who were in the program. It's not just the coordinating team explaining everything."


Gillotti expects that people attending the mixers will not only hear about the day-to-day benefits of employing youth through SummerWorks – such as exposure to the work their companies do, fresh perspectives on challenges, and "a burst of youthful energy." They are also likely to hear about the long-term human connections that develop, which Gillotti describes as one of the program's most important impacts.


"We have youth who have participated over a few summers and sometimes they get paired with the same employer," Gillotti says. "The results that come from such mentoring are longstanding and have been valuable to employers, our youth, and the county."


More information on SummerWorks is available here. There will be a mixer on Feb. 19 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at The Back Office Studio, 13 N. Washington St. in Ypsilanti; and another on March 5 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the A2Y Regional Chamber, 2010 Hogback Rd. No. 4 in Ann Arbor.


Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at


Photo courtesy of Washtenaw County OCED.