Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) is dedicated to helping students overcome barriers to success.
Augusta High School senior Devin Russell-Unger has not just overcome some significant barriers himself. He is now leading others to overcome theirs through his role as president of the JAG-K State Career Association, which unites JAG programs throughout Kansas.
In recognition of Russell’s remarkable story, he was invited to speak to JAG staff from across the nation at its annual training conference in July. Russell-Unger shared in a video presentation to the staff his experiences in foster care. Russell-Unger, who was adopted in March of this year, expressed that JAG-K helped him stay on course when his family situation left him directionless and unmotivated.
“Being in foster care for a good portion of my life, it really impacted me,” Russell-Unger told the national staff. “It threw me into depression for the longest part of my life, being separated from my parents and often not able to see my brothers. It really hurt my life. But that’s where JAG stepped in. It said ‘We may not be your real family, but we can be there for you every step of the way.’”
“We like to feature student speakers in the plenary sessions to remind us of why we do this incredible work,” said JAG Vice President Karey Webb. “Devin reminded us of the resilience our students have and the importance of the JAG Family. Our participants are seeking a place where they belong, and JAG provides the relationships and environment for students to spread their wings so they can soar after their dreams.”
Naturally, Russell-Unger found speaking to a large group of adults from across the country daunting, even if it was through a video. But he trusted his natural talents and the skills he has developed in JAG-K.
“I know I’m a good public speaker, but I lose sight of that a little bit when I’m asked to do something important like that,” Russell-Unger said. “I wanted to share with the staff that JAG is opportunity. When you step into JAG, you step into an opportunity to be better for ourselves and for our society.”
Augusta High School JAG-K Career Specialist Christy Pray said that Russell-Unger’s leadership talents, combined with his perspective as a student adopted from foster care, will make him an effective president of the state career association.
“I’m so excited for our program to have a statewide president, but I’m even more excited for Devin,” Pray said. “He is such a strong advocate and a strong voice. He really uses his platform, from having been in foster care to being adopted. The leadership opportunities in JAG-K have really propelled him on this amazing pathway.”
Elected by his peers from across Kansas to lead the affiliation of students in April, Russell-Unger and other elected officers will work with leaders from around the nation to shape the direction of JAG-K. Those other statewide officers are: Vice President Ryah Klima, Concordia High School; Secretary Karin Moorhouse, Hiawatha High School; Treasurer Kaden Nguyen, Emporia High School.
“I am thrilled that Devin will have the opportunity to represent not just Augusta, but the state of Kansas as he sees the direction that JAG should go,” Pray said. “Not just him, but the other three students who will be involved in leadership on the national level.
“The statewide officers learn how to work with leaders from across the state. They learn to conduct business meetings, how to give and receive ideas. They really gain the ability to think bigger than themselves and to realize how what they’re doing affects those students coming up behind them.”
Russell-Unger said he understands the amount of work the role of president will require, and the responsibility it brings. He said he would like to see more students have the opportunity to participate in JAG-K, and particularly for more programs to be provided at the middle school level.
“I’m taking it one step at a time, trying to look ahead at how everything we do will effect students in the future,” Russell-Unger said. “The program has done so much for me, and I want to help make it even better for others.”