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New program helps homeless teens transition after high school

JAG Works program returns to Tucson
Posted at 3:46 PM, Jun 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-29 19:26:59-04
When Benjamin Carnahan was 15-years-old, he says he ended up living by himself on the streets. 
"I was kind of lost," he said. "I didn't have any plan, I was just going day by day, doing my thing. I wasn't in school for two years unfortunately."
He eventually went back to school and learned about the non-profit organization Youth on their Own, that helps homeless and at risk teens by providing financial assistance and helping with other needs so they can stay in school.
Carnahan says he's now planning to get his high school diploma this December. 
"YOTO's really made it a lot easier," he said. "I can live comfortably."
This summer, Carnahan is one of 22 students participating in a new program at YOTO called JAG Works. JAG stands for Jobs for Arizona Graduates.
The program has been in the Phoenix area for the last three decades but failed in Tucson several years ago when it was in the Sunnyside School District.
It's now back in Tucson thanks to a grant received by YOTO. The goal of the program is to help homeless or at-risk teens not only graduate from high school, but transition successfully into career-focused employment or post-secondary education. 
Jacki Vaughan-Chaldy is the college and career development coordinator at YOTO and says she pushed hard to bring the JAG program back.
"For our youth who don't really have an adult figure to have these conversations with, to help them figure out what's going to happen after they graduate high school, I want to be part of that," she said.
Vaughan-Chaldy says the majority of her students are living in group homes. The JAG program helps the students not only figure out what their goals are but how to realistically achieve them.
During a class exercise, students taped their goals to the wall. One read: "I want to have kids and raise them differently than I was raised."
Many goals focus on graduating college and getting jobs. As for Carnahan's goal...
"That's my life goal right there, be financially secure," he said. 
The six-week program ends in July but there is a one-year follow-up period after high school graduation so YOTO can check in on students and make sure they are receiving the support they need to succeed. 
The grant will continue the program for the next three years. After that, Vaughan-Chaldy says she hopes they can receive additional funding to keep the program going.