RBCTC Salutes Rachel Harrness

It’s funny how one event in your life can lead to a decision that takes you down a certain path into your future! This happened to this month’s “River Bend Career and Technical Center Salutes Person”, Sergeant Rachel Harrness of the Grafton County Department of Corrections. Growing up, Rachel had always felt good about helping others, and found that she was friendly with many people. She really wasn’t sure where this enjoyment of helping others would lead her until middle school. Rachel attended middle school at Oxbow High School, and when she was an 8th grader, the school ran a program for all students to shadow some sort of career. Rachel chose the opportunity to participate in a “ride-along” with the Haverhill Police Department. From that experience, she became focused on careers in the “helping professions”, which has led her to where she is today!

In her junior year at Oxbow, Rachel decided to take a new program at River Bend Career and Technical Center called “Emergency Services”. She completed this exciting two-year program in 2002, and graduated from Oxbow High School at the same time. As she reflects back on that education, she feels that there were many foundational skills that she picked up through her technical education that have served her well over the years. A few of the “stand-out” experiences include her week-long training at the Vermont Police Academy, which was completed along with students from Hartford Career and Technical Center; the time spent doing “live-burns” at the Vermont Fire Academy; and the connections she made by joining the Bradford Fire Department and the Bradford FAST Squad in her senior year. She left the River Bend program at graduation having completed her Fire Fighter Level 1 Certificate, CPR Certificate, and her First Responder Certification!

After graduation, Rachel decided to enroll in a Criminal Justice Program at Franklin Pierce College at night, and waitress during the day. At the time, Franklin Pierce offered a satellite campus in Lebanon, New Hampshire, which made commuting to classes much easier. Working full-time and taking classes part-time, Rachel finally graduated with her Associates Degree in Criminal Justice, but was not exactly sure where she wanted to apply her skills. In August of 2009, she responded to an opening at the Grafton County Department of Corrections jail in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, for a Correctional Officer. She was hired on a part-time basis for the position, but quickly moved to full-time.

Rachel’s work as a Correctional Officer was a position where she worked at night in 12-hour shifts. This schedule continued for her until she had the opportunity to become certified by the 82nd New Hampshire Association of Counties Correctional Academy in Concord, New Hampshire. Once this training was completed, she moved to more of a day-time schedule at the jail. In 2011, Rachel was promoted to Corporal, which meant she had more of a supervisory role, not only with inmates, but also with a small group of staff. Her next promotion came in March of 2016, when she reached the level of Sergeant. This promotion came with more supervisory responsibility, and the opportunity to work with more people, which she has really enjoyed! Her excellent work is certainly noticed by her peers and superiors, as she has twice been selected as “Officer of the Quarter”!

In July of 2018, the retirement of another Sergeant in the Correctional Department created an employment opening that Rachel was excited to apply for consideration. In July, Sergeant Harrness became the head of the “Operation Impact Program” for the Grafton County Department of Corrections. This unique program has been developed and refined over the years with an over-all mission of providing free outreach to schools, after-school programs, and teen groups in the areas of sound decision-making, anti-bullying efforts and substance abuse reduction. Rachel travels to schools from Kindergarten through grade 12, to deliver a series of interactive and highly informative programs that really seem to reach each audience!

Rachel’s kind and positive personality seem to really connect with her students, as recently seen in her presentation of one of her programs, “Anatomy of a DWI,” to the students in the EMS/Firefighters Program at River Bend Career and Technical Center! This program covers positive peer-pressure, negative peer-pressure, what to expect when a person is stopped for a suspected DWI, and the harmful consequences and ramifications of being charged. The class involves the use of breathalyzers and “Fatal Vision Goggles” as part of the field sobriety tests. Students clearly enjoyed the entire program, and were involved totally from the beginning until the end! In another situation with pre-kindergarten students through second grade students, Rachel modified the existing bullying program to a program of looking for “Acts of Kindness”, finding this approach more positive and successful for the youngest of students.

Sergeant Harrness also arranges for “job shadowing” for area students, possibly giving them some of the same experiences that she found so helpful in her career decision-making process years ago. On the day of our interview, she was taking an inmate she has been working with to Littleton High School to speak with a group of students about decision-making and consequences; which she feels has a very powerful impact on students. She also conducts jail tours for groups of students. In all, Rachel’s course offerings for all of the different grade levels, exceeds 20 different programs.

Sergeant Harrness has taken her goal of trying to help others to another level, as she reaches out to students, young and old; the help she offers to inmates; and the support she gives to her colleagues and friends working in the correctional system! Congratulations Rachel, we are all very proud of you!

For more information regarding the Grafton County Department of Corrections’ “Operation Impact Program”, Please contact Sergeant Rachel Harrness at (603) 787-2041 Extension #3, or rharrness@grafton.nh.us

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