Teens from the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) got a taste of life’s challenges in a fun and controlled environment. Each youth received a t-shirt, bag, wristband and personalized Reality City handbook, which described an occupation and a monthly income to role-play.
“The event was like an interactive version of the board game Life,” said the Goodwill’s Lab Supervisor David Awalt. “I think the participants really had fun while getting a chance to experience some of the realities of life.”
The theme of the day was, “My reality equals my choice,” which helped drive home the idea that life is about the choices we make, not the hand we are dealt. The event helped demonstrate to youth what to expect when transitioning into adulthood and the ever-present reality that awaits them.
During the event, youth encountered real-life scenarios, including buying a car, renting or buying a house, applying for car insurance and health insurance, buying groceries and clothing, putting children in daycare, going to the doctor and more. Capital One Bank provided checkbooks for the youth to make purchases at each booth and had financial professionals on site offering free advice and counseling.
Throughout the day, youth received pink slips or termination notices without warning, forcing them to find another job. Organizers also randomly distributed “Life Happens” cards that had real-world scenarios tied to a monetary value. These cards put youth in a variety of situations, from finding $20 while cleaning to needing expensive car repairs. Babies were also given out at random, requiring participants to visit the medical booth and pay $50 if they had insurance or $100 if they did not.
“It was interesting to watch the youth’s faces as they were handed babies or cards telling them to subtract $50 from their budget because their car needed an oil change,” Awalt said.
Youth who did not live within their means either had to visit a payday loan booth – where they could get a quick boost to their income but may suffer the consequences of high interest rates – or find a second job – which gave them a steady boost to their income with no strings attached. Participants who finished the day within their means and with a positive amount in their bank accounts had the chance to win a Kindle Fire.
After the event, the youth and their caseworkers celebrated with lunch and entertainment, including dancing, karaoke, prize drawings and bingo.