The Brazil Business and Professional Women's Club sponsored its 11th annual Reality Store Monday morning in the North Clay Middle School gymnasium. Mabel Kidwell and Kathy Deal co-chaired the event, which was devised to educate young people about what might really happen when they reach adulthood and are forced to support themselves.
Kidwell summed up the purpose of having this kind of program saying, "We hope this teaches them what life can bring them."
The 368 eighth grade students from North Clay and Clay City schools were given brief instructions on future investment plans and informed of some of the incentives to save money. Then they spent the next hour-and-a-half visiting various booths that represented real-life responsibilities one would face within a month. As Kidwell put it, many of these kids were in for a "rude awakening." Still, most of them seemed to view it as a positive experience.
North Clay eighth grader Monica Duelin said, "I think it's very informative and it helps us with our future."
Students were required to start at the Family Choice booth where a random drawing determined their family status as a 28-year-old. In other words, it was decided at this booth whether students would go through Reality Store married or single and how many children they had. Next, they went to the bank where the school counselors assigned each of them a career and he or she was given a month's salary befitting that career. They also opened a checking account and paid student loans, if applicable.
The students then experienced some of the shock and letdown that most people go through when they receive their first paycheck at the "Uncle Sam" booth. Everyone had to pay FICA, federal and state taxes. According to Kidwell, "They can't believe the taxes that come off there."
After choosing between buying a house and renting with insurance, it was time to pay the bills.
Students had to write checks to cover the costs of utilities, food and, if they had children, daycare. Another Reality Store booth offered medical insurance. Students had the choice to take it or leave it, but only a few booths later, those who had opted not to buy insurance had to draw for a medical problem and pay the doctor's bill. If students' checking account balances had dropped below $100 at that point, they could take on a second job. However, many more difficult decisions followed when the students got to the "Luxury Booths", all of which were optional.
These booths included some things that many students probably take for granted such as new clothing, transportation and furniture and decorating. Entertainment and church or charitable donations were also among the luxuries.
In the middle of choosing which of these they could afford, students had to draw for a legal situation and pay accordingly. And before the "Month's End", they still had one more financial risk to take.
At the "Second Chance" booth each student could spin a wheel that might stop on almost anything. Of course, unforeseen expenses are far more common than unexpected fortunes in Reality Store just as they are in real life. The possible stopping points on the wheel ranged from winning the lottery or claiming an inheritance to taking the dog to the vet or getting in a wreck with no insurance. Finally, the students took their checkbook registers to the BPW Club members and community volunteers at the "Month's End" booth. Their finances were figured and they were congratulated for what they had done right and counseled on their mistakes.
Once students had gotten through all the booths, they filled out evaluation forms. The remarks made about Reality Store on these forms are generally favorable. No matter how well or how poorly participants did in the program, nearly all of them would most likely admit that the experience had made them think.
Garrett Buis, an eighth grader at Clay City said, "I guess I learned what my parents go through every month. I appreciate them more than I ever have."