Part of a 39-state network aimed at increasing high school graduation rates and setting young adults on a positive trajectory, the Jobs for New Jersey's Graduates program has had to do what so many other groups around the Garden State have done in the last three months — move most of its operation online while trying to maintain the quality of its services.

Jobs for New Jersey's Graduates is an offshoot of Jobs for America's Graduates, and is run by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Chamber. Of the 39 JAG state organizations, JNJG is the only one which does not receive state appropriations. All of its funding is private.

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New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Donna Custard said students must display at least five of nearly 40 academic, social, environmental, or emotional barriers to graduation to qualify for the program. JNJG's biggest footprints are in communities with high dropout risk, such as Newark, Camden, Vineland, New Brunswick, Carteret, and Little Egg Harbor, with expansion to Passaic and possibly Bridgeton next year.

But before that, JNJG will have to continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, with a particular concentration on households where students may be working up to 50 hours a week to contribute to the family income, according to Custard,

"Sometimes their parents or guardians are front-line workers in retail, so during the pandemic, lots of our students and their families lost their jobs," Custard said.

Under normal circumstances, JNJG would include on-the-job workplace shadowing and employer mentorship as part of its three-pronged approach, but with stay-at-home orders and other closures in place as of mid-March, the group's first priority became ensuring the health and safety of those it serves, many of whom come from homes where abuse or heavy drug and alcohol use has taken place.

"Once we were sure that their basic needs were being met and we could find our students, then we shifted to an online learning environment and provided the curriculum and workforce development training online," Custard said.

Jobs for New Jersey's Graduates expects to provide services to approximately 400 students this year across 11 different cohorts. Since 2011, students in their program have graduated at a rate of 93 to 100%, compared to mainstream rates anywhere from 36 to 88% in their home communities, according to Custard.

After graduation, JNJG follows its participants for 12 months to ensure a smooth continuation of their journey into post-secondary school, the military, or the workforce.

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Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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