Makenna Bourque, left, of Pittsfield and Daisha Joyner of Concord both completed New Hampshire Jobs for America’s Graduates’ LNA training in August.

About five years ago, New Hampshire Jobs for America’s Graduates, a statewide nonprofit, decided to focus on the health-care sector and launched a program in Concord to help young people become licensed nursing assistants.

Since then, the organization, which recently moved its headquarters from Manchester to Concord, has supported 104 students on their path to jobs as LNAs, providing resources like free tuition, financial literacy education and one-on-one counseling to help participants find employment in the field. And now, with health-care jobs remaining in high demand, NH-JAG is expanding this training program to three new cities, including Keene.

“As we worked through this, it became quite successful, and that’s why we wanted to bring it to other parts of the state,” NH-JAG Executive Director Janet Arnett said. “I think it’s no big surprise to anyone that licensed nursing assistants are badly needed right now, as with other health-care workforce situations. It’s just a tough time. So ... we hope that we’re doing our small part to help with that.”

The organization hopes to launch the Keene program next month, Arnett said, and enroll two students to start. The ramp-up might be a bit slow, she added, as NH-JAG works to launch similar programs in Berlin and Laconia. In Keene, NH-JAG is working with River Valley Community College to offer the LNA training, and students who are accepted into the program will enroll in courses at the college, which has locations in Keene, Claremont and Lebanon.

Participants must be between 16 and 24, not currently enrolled in school and demonstrate some barrier preventing them from pursuing a health career. These barriers, Arnett said, could include financial hardship, lack of a high school diploma or a disability. Anyone interested in applying for the Keene program should contact the NH-JAG office in Concord, Arnett said.

Stacey Venne, a youth specialist for NH-JAG who runs the Concord LNA training program, said the application process includes an interview to determine what type of support a participant would require.

“This is all done on an individual basis,” Venne, a Concord resident, said. “Everyone’s JAG time is different, depending on what services they might need. So, things could include uniforms and supplies for training — we set them all up — we pay for licenses and the fingerprinting process to become licensed. We cover all of the tuition for the training program.”

The organization has also helped students who dropped out of high school with test preparation to complete their licensing exams, Venne said. Other services include connecting participants with resources like rent and utility assistance, if students need that kind of help.

“So, really helping them find out where all those resources are out in the community,” she said. “We do a lot of stuff with financial literacy that will include budgeting and savings plans. Maybe they have a goal of getting a car, so we can build out a plan on how much per paycheck they should put aside and how long that will take them to save up that amount of money.”

All of this, Arnett said, goes to the core of the nationwide Jobs for America’s Graduates program, which started in Delaware about 41 years ago.

“It was primarily focused around dropout prevention and school-to-career programming,” she said. “New Hampshire brought the JAG model to the state 34 years ago. … And the focus has remained primarily the same, although it’s updated since then.”

NH-JAG still operates high-school based programs at six schools throughout the state — in Berlin, Conway, Raymond, Woodsville and two in Manchester — but has added these job training programs for people no longer in high school. The organization is still looking for a youth specialist to coordinate the Keene program, Arnett said. Along with the two other new LNA training programs, NH-JAG is looking to grow to 11 employees throughout the organization statewide.

“It’s been challenging this past year to provide services and keep the Concord program going strong during the pandemic. But we feel like this is really purposeful work that we’re doing,” Arnett said. “It’s needed, it’s always going to be needed, and there’s lots of opportunity there.”

According to the NH Needs Caregivers! Initiative — a project of the NH Health Care Association, the state’s largest group of long-term care providers — the Granite State has 946 open LNA positions, and 74 nursing homes that need LNAs. With only a handful of participants at a time, the NH-JAG training project can make a small impact on that situation, Arnett said, though the Concord program has inspired some students to pursue further nursing education and keep working in health care.

“So we feel like we’re getting some students on a career pathway, and we’re also at the same time providing a little bit of assistance, because we are small, to health-care providers who are looking for that future workforce,” she said. “They’re looking for good workers, and we hope we’re doing our part.”

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.