Jobs For Arizona’s Graduates (JAG)

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Jobs for Arizona’s Graduates helps young people stay in school and receive the personal, academic, leadership and vocational skills they will need to be successful upon graduation. JAG President Graciela Garcia Candia talks about what support services they offer to help students.

Richard Ruelas: Thank you for joining us. Jobs for Arizona's graduates, known as JAG, helps young people stay in school and get the personal leadership, academics, and vocational skills they need to be successful after graduation. We will talk to the president of JAG in a moment, but first let's listen to what some students have to say about the organization.

Alexandra Rodriguez: JAG means everything to me. Just the past year it's given me so many opportunities and taught me so many skills. Without JAG I don't know where I would be today.

Devonte Smith: I'm graduating this year, JAG helped me a lot during the year. It helped me find a job, helped me find out what I wanted to do with my life.

Kristie Aguirre: I'm a sophomore, and I like JAG because it's very inspirational, and it's actually raised my GPA from a 2.6 to a 3.7 within the past year.

Remigio Gordillo: Being positive influence for students, introducing them to things they never thought of before, showing them how to communicate, giving them opportunities they may not have realized were available to them. And JAG helped me by allowing me to be a positive influence to students, and kind of achieve my dreams, growing up I didn't have a lot of teachers that were there and truly cared outside of the classroom, and my dream was always to be that person for students, and JAG's allowed me to fulfill that.

Richard Ruelas: Instead of thinking of journeys don't stop believing as the last scene of the sopranos we can think about it with JAG. Joining me to talk more about this organization is Graciela Garcia Candia, president of jobs for Arizona's graduates. Thanks for joining us.

Graciela Garcia Candia: Thank you for having me.

Richard Ruelas: How long has this program been around?

Graciela Garcia Candia: We've been in the state of Arizona for over years. We've served over , young people since our inception, and we're currently serving young people in schools.

Richard Ruelas: 33 years. How big was it when it started, what was the original concept when it started?

Graciela Garcia Candia: The original concept started in 1980. It was a school-to-career transition program. It was statewide, and it was in partnership with school districts, helping identify young people who we wanted to graduate and make sure that they were not going to be unemployed or underemployed after graduation. Since then, we have moved to looking at different ways to help the young people not only through employment, but also connecting them to post-secondary opportunities. We've found out these young people strive for that, and that's -- They believe they can do it now.

Richard Ruelas: Back in 1980, was it just one school, a community --

Graciela Garcia Candia: It was statewide.

Richard Ruelas: Right away?

Graciela Garcia Candia: It was statewide, right away. We're part of a national organization called jobs for America's graduates. It started in 1979 in the state of Delaware as an answer to governor DuPont, who wanted to find a program that was going to answer the unemployment underemployment of his youth exiting high schools. So the pilot went through a year, and Carolyn warner, state superintendent at the time, was part of the debrief of the program and decided this was a program for Arizona. So we were -- It was a statewide program in 1980.

Richard Ruelas: I believe it was last week or the week before, NBC news had education nation, it was a student panel at the Herberger Theater, and student after student kept mentioning this program, and that's what got our producers to think, wow, this is something to discuss. I don't know how many people who haven't been affected by the program or have used the program know about it.

Graciela Garcia Candia: At some point we thought it was the best-kept secret in Arizona, and it wasn't by design, it was just -- It just happened. But now that our young people are out there in the community and they're giving back, they talk about JAG, they come to our career development conference, they come back to our classroom and they talk about their success. So they're out there. You'll be surprised some of our alumni who they are and what they're doing now. So we're very excited for them, and we thank the school partnerships, because they allowed us to go into the schools and provide the services.

Richard Ruelas: How do you pick what schools, or what schools do you look for?

Graciela Garcia Candia: The school districts identify themselves. They let us know -- If our program meets their goal if we're going to align to a need they have. If they have some -- A dropout issue, if they want their students to be a little bit more prepared when they go into the work force, not that they don't have programs like that, but JAG really emphasizes and focuses on the young people that have not really looked into further education. Maybe not even graduated from high school. It's just not been in their plan. Because of a lot of personal barriers, academic barriers that they have to their success.

Richard Ruelas: So the schools come to you, they self-identify.

Graciela Garcia Candia: They self-identify, and because they've heard of our program, will call us and say, how can we provide this program in our school?

Richard Ruelas: And you look for a certain type of student, right?

Graciela Garcia Candia: We're looking for students who are the -- The ones who have not typically joined other clubs or activities. These are the underrepresented students, these are the struggling students, the students that like I said, really hadn't thought about even graduating from high school because they just had so many barriers to their success.

Richard Ruelas: How do you engage a student that isn't engaged? Do you go find them?

Graciela Garcia Candia: That's the magic. There is an advisory committee that's formed at their campuses, and it's those advisory committees are the ones that help us identify the students that most need and want the services that JAG provides. They have to be willing participants. They have to say, yes, I want to be part of this. And their parents and the students find a commitment form that says they're going to enroll in the program and a year after graduation they're still going to receive services, because we do a full year of follow-up proactive services to make sure they're enrolled in school, or they're employed in meaningful jobs.

Richard Ruelas: You must have some students then who come to you in -- Do this program or else situation? They've come through teachers or counselors who were letting them know you're in trouble, there's some things that need to get fixed.

Graciela Garcia Candia: You would be surprised, because once they get in there, they start connecting with that teacher, they really develop a trust, they become a family. And the students participate in a student-led organization that's co-curricular, so it's part of their daily classroom. Through the career association, they're able to then participate in coming to service projects, they're giving back to the community, they start trusting each other, they start learning how to be a team, they learn about different opportunities to help their own schools. And even sometimes their own communities. So that's what really engages the students, and that's what keeps them coming to school. So now all the teachers have their opportunities to teach our students.

Richard Ruelas: Career association, you have them start thinking about what they want to do for a living?

Graciela Garcia Candia: Absolutely. Absolutely. Part of the curriculum is they do an intensive career research to make sure that they know what they're passionate about, what they're good at, what they want to do, what do they want to contribute into their community? We often ask them, what is your passion, what is going to get you excited? Where do you want to start? What do you want to be a part of? And that's how we get them to focus on what career path they want to investigate or research. And it's done through their class. So they bring in guest speakers, they go on field trips, and it's all done in the classroom. Along with the rest of their 39 classmates.

Richard Ruelas: So maybe it's not even that they have to pick the career they'll do, but they pick a career, they pick a goal.

Graciela Garcia Candia: They pick a goal and they go out and do a job observation day, or they do a summer internship program, and that gets them to the idea of oh, my goodness, this is what I want to do, or, no, this is not what I had in mind. A couple years ago we had a student who wanted to be a medical doctor. And so she was able to -- We found her a job in the medical field, and after the summer she completed the program, and completed her job, she came back the next year and said, you know, this is not for me. I do not want to be in the medical field. So she's now at the U of A, ready to graduate, and she's going to be a lawyer. It just goes to show you they have to do the research to make sure this is the right career path. We tell them throughout their life they're going to change their career and that's OK.

Richard Ruelas: And she's at the U of A, which is well overlooked being on the campus of Arizona state. You have allowed them to make some mistakes.

Graciela Garcia Candia: Absolutely, because I myself am a wild cat.

Richard Ruelas: Well. Well, let's overlook that for the next few minutes. How do you guys get funding? How does this program --

Graciela Garcia Candia: We have funding -- 48% of our budget comes through corporate support. The community -- It's a -- JAG is a true demonstration of bringing leaders from the community and business education and government together to solve the growing issues of our youth. And they know that funding is important, so corporate sponsorship is extremely important for us. We are valley of the sun united way, valley partnered for many, many years, and we receive some funding from the governor's program for college access college grant to provide additional transition programs for college -- For the college.

Richard Ruelas: And then do you need -- I'm just looking, there's probably people in the community who might want to help. Do you look for advisories, do you need people to come in and speak at schools? What kind of things --

Graciela Garcia Candia: Absolutely. If they go on to our website they can see the multitude of opportunities to volunteer and participate. Come in to the classroom and talk about their story. Talking about how they went to school, talking about what it was like when they were choosing their career. All of those are important opportunities for our students to hear from volunteers. If they want to make a donation, absolutely, we will accept it. But it's important they meet our students, that they visit with them and talk to them, and give them -- Continue to inspire them and give them hope, because that's what our students need. They need to be engaged in the community, and they need to show that they are going to be successful community contributing community members.

Richard Ruelas: Let's hear those numbers again. How many students are being helped now and how many have been helped through the life of the program?

Graciela Garcia Candia: Currently, 1,300 students in schools. And through the entire process over 33,000 young people.

Richard Ruelas: I imagine you might see especially from those -- From the 80's and 90's a ripple effect where you see brothers and sisters, or --

Graciela Garcia Candia: We do. And surprisingly, we would love for those students to have said to their brothers and sisters, this is the process. Here is what I did, so you don't become one of those struggling students, but this becomes a family and what they tell us is, we want them to go through the program. Because there's so many opportunities that come with being part of our program, that they want their brothers and sisters and their cousins to participate and experience that wonderful opportunity that they had. So it's a blessing.

Richard Ruelas: Yeah. Jobs for Arizona's graduates. Thanks for coming to share this quiet success story with our viewers. Thank you so much.

Graciela Garcia Candia: Thank you for the opportunity.

Graciela Garcia Candia: President, Jobs for Arizona's Graduate

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