A program that helped Waterville teenager Amber Haney get into college and prepare for a career has received a big shot in the arm from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

The foundation announced Tuesday that it is awarding Jobs for Maine’s Graduates a $600,000 challenge grant to help the program continue, expand and open new programs at schools in Fairfield and Dexter.

That is a real vote of confidence for a program that was invaluable to Haney, 18, while she was a student at Waterville Senior High School. It helped her realize her potential to be a high school English teacher, apply for scholarships and get accepted to Thomas College in Waterville, where she is majoring in secondary education.

“It motivated me to take a step further and push for what I wanted to do,” Haney said Tuesday from the Thomas campus. “Before, I didn’t know how I was going to get into college or how to pay for it.”

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is a nonprofit organization that partners with public high and middle schools to help prepare students for continued education, as well as careers. About 5,000 students are enrolled annually in the program, which is in its 21st year.

The Foundation will match, dollar for dollar, new contributions made to the program for up to $600,000, according to a news release issued Tuesday by both the Alfond Foundation and Jobs Program.

“We could not be more thrilled to be partnering with JMG, an organization whose mission and programs are in such great need statewide, with such a strong track record of success,” Greg Powell, the Foundation chairman, said in the release. “This grant allows us to support the organization as well as the communities of Dexter and Fairfield — and to build on the successes achieved in Waterville, Oakland and many other communities statewide.”

Half of the matching grant will support the program’s operations directly. The other $300,000 will support the cost of new programs at Lawrence High School in Fairfield and Dexter Regional High School in Dexter.

Craig Larrabee, president and chief executive officer of the Jobs Program, said in the news release that to receive such an investment from one of the largest and most well-respected foundations in New England is an honor.

“We are excited to be able to bring our program to the young people of Fairfield and Dexter and immensely grateful for the opportunity this challenge grant provides,” he said.

The Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program is in 76 high and middle schools all over the state, according to Lisa Gardner, the program’s communications manager.

A Jobs for Maine’s Graduates specialist teaches the classes and is hired, trained and employed by the program, she said. The program helps students improve personal and communication skills to help them in continued education and careers. It also helps them attain and retain jobs, Gardner said.

The program meant the difference between going to college or going directly to work after high school for Haney. She graduated from Waterville Senior High School in 2013 and had taken three years of Jobs for Maine’s Graduates courses, the last two with specialist Joe Haney, who is no relation to her, she said.

She said she learned a variety of valuable life skills in the courses, including how to fill out job and college applications and file income taxes, as well as how to do public speaking, handle job interviews, dress and sell herself.

“It kind of pushes you along,” she said. “It’s kind of like a helping hand to get you into the real world.”

She added that Joe Haney “helped me apply for scholarships, and he helped people if they were failing classes.”

“He’d help people find out how to get extra credit. He helped me a lot with getting into college. A lot of times, people don’t have someone to sit down with them and talk about what they need to do and how to do it.”

She said she knows students who would not have graduated from high school had it not been for the program.

“Mr. Haney talked to us like adults,” she said. “He finds out what your goals are and what you need to do to accomplish that goal. He just really lays it all out so you can see the big picture.”

Haney is enrolled in science, mathematics, literature, composition and English classes at Thomas. Her goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, she said. She is thrilled about the grant.

“I think that they can really use it and benefit from it,” she said.

Gardner said the goal is to have two specialists hired by May for the new Dexter and Fairfield programs, which are scheduled to open in the fall.

“Typically, after a year or two, the school districts have completely bought into the program, so the schools actually contribute 45 percent of the cost of the program,” she said.

The Jobs Program is supported by communities and businesses, said Gardner, who writes grant applications for the program.

The Alfond Foundation was founded in 1950 by Harold Alfond, founder of Dexter Shoe Co.

Tuesday’s news release notes his longtime support “for of Maine communities in which he and his family worked and lived.”

He awarded matching challenge grants to help build community partnerships and to inspire and leverage additional giving and he ensured his philanthropy would live on by committing nearly all of his wealth to the Foundation, according to the release.

Amy Calder — 861-9247 acalder@centralmaine.com Twitter: @AmyCalder17