At first glance, Kira Canada resembles your typical busy 18-year-old balancing school, extracurricular activities and part-time work.
But to thousands of her peers, she has another important role: madame president.
That’s because Canada was recently elected to lead the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) National Career Association. Established to empower young people with skills and experiences to succeed in education, career and life, JAG serves more than 68,000 students in 1,300-plus communities across 39 states.
The role marks Canada’s third presidential post; she previously led Iowa JAG affiliate (iJAG) efforts at two high schools.
Last November, the Regions Foundation, a nonprofit primarily funded by Regions Bank, presented a $25,000 grant to iJAG to support the nonprofit’s Leadership Development Conference. The 2023 gift was one of four Regions Foundation grants supporting JAG across the bank’s footprint.
We caught up with Canada and fellow iJAG participant Alontae Gross, a senior at North High School in Des Moines who serves as Iowa’s Career Association president, to learn more about how they discovered the program and the value they’ve gained from it.
How did you hear about the JAG program and what motivated you to get involved?
Canada: I joined my freshman year of high school. The iJAG specialist for my school came to my Spanish class wanting to share information about the program. I immediately wanted to join because of the way she described it. It was something I knew I wanted to be part of and had been looking for. Going into high school, I was worried about the future and wanted to be involved with something that would prepare me for life after high school and support me through that journey. iJAG did just that.
Gross: I first heard about iJAG my sophomore year and joined my junior year. My counselor recommended I take the class. He thought it would be beneficial for me and, indeed, it was.
What’s your favorite iJAG memory?
Canada: Traveling to Dallas for the first National Career Development Conference and being elected the first president-elect.
Gross: Attending the National Career Development Conference in Orlando. I got to put my skills and knowledge from iJAG to the test and compete nationally among all JAG programs. Although I didn’t win, it was a good learning experience that helped me grow as a leader. I met a lot of people and built many relationships.
What’s one aspect of your iJAG participation that’s challenged you?
Canada: Making the best decision for college.
Gross: Networking. I didn’t know how to spark a conversation and keep it going. But iJAG has really helped me with my communication skills and engaging in conversations.
What have you learned about yourself through your iJAG involvement?
Canada: I am a natural leader who’s good at teaching.
Gross: iJAG has helped me invest in myself and find my spark. I learned I like serving as a leader and advocate for students, and iJAG helped me achieve that. It showed me I’m capable of achieving anything no matter what.
What’s something you think our readers might not know about JAG they should?
Canada: JAG serves a wide variety of students from all different backgrounds. Each student has a unique story and purpose for being in JAG. JAG can benefit any student in America.
Gross: The education specialists do everything in their power to provide resources for students’ well-being by creating a safe place where students feel like they belong and can be themselves. They are also really good at guiding students out of their comfort zone and helping them find their spark and purpose in life.
Tell us more about your plans. Do you plan to continue your education and what career field or vocation are interested in pursuing?
Canada: I am currently finishing my Associate of Liberal Arts transfer degree at Des Moines Community College. I then plan to transfer to an undecided school to study criminal justice or criminology and then attend law school to become an attorney.
Gross: After high school, I plan on attending a two- or four-year postsecondary institution with the hope of achieving a career in medicine or law.
JAG and the Regions Foundation are making a difference across several states. Want another example? Check out the foundation’s JAG grant presentation in Alabama!
About Regions Foundation
Regions Foundation supports community investments that positively impact the communities served by Regions Bank. The Foundation engages in a grantmaking program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; and financial wellness. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank.