Gov. Ricketts Highlights Jobs for America’s Graduates Program

News Release
For Immediate Release: 11/23/2020

Media Contacts: 
Taylor Gage, (402) 471-1970
Justin Pinkerman, (402) 471-1967


Governor's Media Release:

LINCOLN – This afternoon, Governor Pete Ricketts held a press conference at the State Capitol to provide an update on the State's work to slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect hospitals.  The Governor reminded Nebraskans of the importance of practicing good health habits as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.  The State remains in the “orange" phase of its pandemic response, which is the second most restrictive phase.

The Governor also highlighted the Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) program, which serves youth facing significant life challenges.  Students in JAG learn to write a resume and how to interview for a job.  Students also learn job skills essential to the workplace.  JAG continues to support students even after they graduate high school, giving them the confidence needed to make good choices, take responsibility for their decisions, and be contributing members of society.  In partnership with the Iowa JAG program, Nebraska launched JAG at three sites in January 2019.  The Nebraska Department of Labor and United Way of the Midlands have grown JAG in 2020, with more expansion planned for 2021.

Matt Wallen, Senior Vice President of Community Impact and Analytics for the United Way of the Midlands, overviewed JAG in Nebraska and talked about the program's benefits.  Ken Smith, President and CEO of JAG, touted the success JAG has already demonstrated in Nebraska.

Coronavirus survivor Tyler Thompson, a teacher at Gering Public Schools, shared his experience recovering from the coronavirus.  He urged young Nebraskans, in particular, to take the virus seriously and to take precautions against its spread.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the State's Chief Medical Officer and Director of the DHHS Division of Public Health, observed “Public Health Thank You Day" by expressing appreciation to the State's public health workers and healthcare professionals.  The State Capitol will be illuminated in blue this evening as a display of gratitude for their work to help Nebraskans stay healthy during the pandemic.

Gov. Ricketts: Coronavirus Update

  • Everything we have been doing has been to protect our hospital system to make sure people get the care they need.
  • We are in a very serious chapter in the pandemic.
  • As I've announced, if Nebraska reaches 25% of staffed hospital beds with coronavirus patients in them, we'll move into the “red" phase.  This means additional restrictions will take effect to help protect our hospital capacity.
  • So far, we have been able to provide hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators to anyone who needs care.  If trends continue, Nebraska will reach a point where that's no longer possible.
  • Let's all do our part to slow the spread so that we can protect our hospitals and help our healthcare workers.

Matt Wallen: Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG)

  • I'm pleased to have the support of Gov. Ricketts and Labor Commissioner John Albin to establish and grow Jobs for America's Graduates, or JAG, in association with United Way of the Midlands.
  • Iowa JAG operated the program for its first year in Nebraska.  Now, United Way is the affiliate member of JAG national and operating the accredited program at eight locations.
  • The current program has about 250 students throughout Columbus High School, Grand Island Senior High, Hastings High School, Nebraska City High School, UMO HO Nation School in Macy, York High School, and two locations in Fremont at the High School and Middle School.  We're grateful for the support of the superintendents, principals, and teachers at each of those locations.
  • Columbus, Fremont High School, and UMO HO Nation School were the three original locations in the program.  The other locations started this year.  Our JAG career specialists have all done a great job with their classes and programing in the schools through pandemic conditions.
  • We have plans to bring up two additional locations this January in Omaha at Bryan and Monroe middle schools and then next school year at Benson and Bryan high schools.
  • The JAG program helps students with significant barriers to academic achievement and graduation.  It supports them through graduation, and for the next 12 months after graduation, as they find sustainable employment and/or further their education leading to a career.
  • This is accomplished through a supportive classroom setting that focuses on practical life skills with a project-based learning approach.
  • JAG Nebraska's 2020 senior graduation rate is 98% and will be 100% when the final student crosses the finish line this December. 
  • We're very excited that JAG Nebraska in association with United Way of the Midlands is an official state affiliate.

Ken Smith: Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG)

  • The Jobs for America's Graduates program has a remarkable track record of success over the last 40 years.  It helps the most vulnerable young people ‎transition from high school into a vocation involving skilled trades, the military, post-secondary education, or by fulfilling their dreams of working in a full- or part-time job specific to their career choice.
  • In 39 states and 1,400 communities, JAG serves more than 76,000 young people each year.  These youth consistently achieve outstanding results, including a 95% graduation rate, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • As of May 31, 2020, the unemployment rate among JAG graduates was 11.5%, almost three times lower than the national youth unemployment rate, which stood at nearly 30%.
  • The 76,000 students that JAG serves across 39 states have been hit the hardest—and likely will be impacted for the longest—by the COVID pandemic.  They need us more than ever.  Many were experiencing significant barriers before the crisis hit, and now those scenarios are even more acute, given the loss of jobs and income many are facing.
  • JAG has helped those historically held back by poverty and other barriers to achieve success, including graduating from high school and gaining the skills needed for employment opportunities.

Tyler Thompson: Coronavirus Survivor Testimonial

  • Within the last couple of weeks, I joined the ranks of the thousands of Nebraskans who've tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • My symptoms began around Halloween.  I was at school, and I felt like I was catching a head cold like I do every fall.
  • I work with hundreds of teenagers each day, so I just thought that I had caught a bug.
  • It became apparent that I had not just caught a cold when I lost my sense of smell.
  • I immediately quarantined and scheduled a test. 
  • I found out that I was positive and did my part to stay home so that I didn't pass the virus to anyone else.
  • It's been almost three weeks since I was ill.  I'm back at work after being cleared by my local health department.
  • Even though I've recovered, I still battle some fatigue, headaches, and a nagging cough that pops up if I push myself too much.
  • This virus requires our vigilance.  Scotts Bluff County, where I live, is one of the hardest-hit places in our state.
  • It's important that we wear a mask, wash our hands, watch our distance, and avoid being in crowds with lots of people.
  • As a young person and teacher of teenagers, I see that people my age and teenagers can be short-sighted.  They think the virus won't affect us, or that we don't need to be as careful as people who you'd identify as being a vulnerable population.
  • One of my very good friends from college, who is my age, has been in the hospital for two weeks in Southeastern Nebraska.
  • I'm a teacher at Gering Public Schools, and I'm navigating this new reality of teaching in-person and teaching online.
  • It's challenging, but it's necessary work.  Our students deserve the best education possible whether we're in a pandemic or not.
  • It's incumbent on all of us to make sure our students continue to receive the education that they need along with the social component of education.
  • It's more important than ever that we do what we can to protect one another here in the Good Life.

Dr. Gary Anthone: Public Health Thank You Day

  • Public health professionals have played a critical role throughout 2020.
  • They've been working very hard to slow the spread of the virus and protect Nebraskans during the pandemic.
  • Thank you to our Department of Health and Human Services Public Health team for their efforts during the coronavirus response.  Thanks as well to the teammates working to ensure that we have clean air, safe water, less disease, safe providers and facilities, and safe workplaces and schools.
  • The team has done a great job of keeping programs running like normal despite the pandemic.
  • Thanks to our local public health departments.  They cover every county of the state, and they're the cornerstone of our public health efforts.
  • They've been working tirelessly since January to help schools, hospitals, and local businesses.
  • I also want to thank Nebraska's healthcare professionals for working to keep people healthy during the pandemic.
  • Let's support our public health professionals, both in our words and actions.
  • Increasing hospitalizations strain our public health resources and workforces.
  • The next few weeks will shape the course of our pandemic history in Nebraska.
  • Our decisions in how and when to gather as families and in the community will determine whether our hospitals and local health departments become overwhelmed.

Video from this morning's press conference is available by clicking here.


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