A former participant in a Kansas City JAG-K program recently shared with legislators how the program helped him turn his life around and set him on a path to success.
On Feb. 15, Darnell Hill told the Senate Ways and Means Corrections and Public Safety Budget Subcommittee about the benefits of the evidence-based program, which helps students prepare for post-secondary education and employment opportunities. The 2021 graduate of F.L. Schlagle High School described the trouble he was in when he joined the JAG-K program.
“Being raised by a single mother, I wanted to take weight off her, so I started to steal,” Hill told the committee. “That was how I got caught up in the juvenile justice system.
“But (F.L Schlagle Career Specialist Karla Pledger) took me in with open arms with no questions asked,” Hill recalled. He told legislators that, thanks to direction from JAG-K, he completed a training program for medical assistants.
“Darnell did a great job telling his personal story and providing an example of the kind of direction JAG-K provides,” said Chuck Knapp, President/CEO of the statewide organization. “We are proud of the strides he has made, and that he was willing to talk about it publicly.”
“I was kind of nervous at first, but once I started talking, the nervousness went away,” Hill said of speaking to lawmakers at the Statehouse. “I told them about how JAG-K changed my life.”
Hill said theft eventually led to a brief incarceration in a county jail. He could see his crimes, and the repercussions, were escalating.
“I just realized ‘This has got to stop,’” Hill said. “I was hanging around the wrong crowd. We would leave school and go shoplifting. It was like an addiction at one point. I was just young and dumb.”
Hill said he was fortunate to have JAG-K to point him in a different direction before it was too late.
“Ms. Pledger loved me, but she didn’t love the things that I was doing. She told me about the consequences of what I was doing.” Hill said. “The JAG kids were a good group of people to be around. They were positive, always motivating you to make better decisions and do better.”
Having received his high school diploma and Medical Assistant certification from the Kansas City School of Phlebotomy, Hill has his sights set even higher. Ultimately, Hill would like to become a pediatric nurse. He said he hopes to work with children who have experienced trauma.
“I’m not the only one who’s been through the things that I’ve experienced,” Hill said. “Other kids have been through even worse. I want to show them that every action has a reaction. If you want to go down the right path and have opportunities, they are open to you.”
JAG-K is a multi-year, in-school program for students in grades 7-12 that offers tools to successfully transition students into post-secondary school, the military, or directly into the workforce with marketable skills. Participants in the program face multiple barriers to success that their JAG-K Career Specialist helps them overcome through a nationally-accredited, evidence-based model.
The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is a state affiliate of the national JAG program network which operates in 40 different states and territories. It is primarily funded through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant to the State of Kansas administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). In addition to school districts and DCF, JAG-K partners with the Kansas Department of Education. Other JAG-K funding sources include ADM, AT&T, Goldstein Charitable Trust, John Deere, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas State Bank Commissioner, Stormont Vail Health, Synchrony Financial, the Taco Bell Foundation and Walmart.
To learn more about JAG-K, visit www.jagkansas.org, ‘Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas’ on Facebook, and on Twitter at @JAG_Kansas.