Reality Experience 2012, sponsored by the Greencastle Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary service clubs, along with Kappa Delta Phi and Delta Theta Tau philanthropic sororities and many other organizations and volunteers.
The Reality Experience is an annual, hands-on project for all of the eighth-graders in Putnam County. It is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8 at the Community Building on the Putnam County Fairgrounds.
The goals of the Reality Experience are to have teens start thinking about their futures, what financial resources they will need to accommodate their desired lifestyles, and the value of education in being able to obtain well-paying jobs, which will enable them to support those lifestyles.
Originally designed by the Business and Professional Women's organization, the local service clubs have joined together to bring this to the eighth-grade youth of Putnam County with the help of many volunteers.
Prior to visiting the Reality Experience, the students work with their teachers and counselors at school on career planning and how to maintain a checkbook register. They are asked to envision what their lifestyles will be like when they are in their mid-20s.
After they have chosen their occupation (often based on their GPA) from our prepared list, they are given an annual gross salary to "deposit" in their check register. Some 75 occupations offer a salary range from $166,400 for a general surgeon to $16,600 for a grocery store clerk.
The Reality Experience is a series of booths set up in the fairgrounds community building and staffed by more than 100 local professional and business people. Upon their arrival, the students proceed to "spend" their month's salary on the necessities and the luxuries of their chosen lifestyles.
Their first "reality" is, of course, Uncle Sam's tax deductions. They are given the opportunity to make a savings deposit; they must either rent or buy housing and pay for utilities. They must buy a vehicle and pay for insurance. They choose whether to buy health, life and homeowners (renter's) insurance.
They also establish budgets for food, clothing, furniture and appliances. They pay medical expenses, and make choices about entertainment and vacations. At the Family Chance booth the students draw to see if they will be married or single; if married, they roll the dice to determine how many children they have (anywhere from zero to three). If they are single, they may choose to adopt a child. Either way, they must deduct the costs of child care.
Another surprise along this road of life experience is the Wheel of Chance -- it might be pleasant or unpleasant. They may have earned a bonus at work and get to deposit additional money into their check register, or they might receive a deposit of earned interest from a CD. They may receive unexpected medical expenses (for which they may or may not have insurance) or suffer a loss from a home burglary or a fire (for which they may have coverage).
They also might be sued or be in a position of needing to sue someone, or may need a will prepared, or charged with a crime, all of which will send them to the legal booth to speak with an attorney -- and, of course, spend money!
At the voting booth the students also learn the importance of registering to vote, how to vote and actually vote on a designated issue or current election. They learn about different community organizations and choose one or more to work with on a voluntary basis. If they have money left, they can choose an exotic vacation or just a trip to the video store. The final reward is a visit to the Snack Shop to enjoy food and drinks generously donated by local businesses -- at no charge to students.
Organizers say listening to the student comments while they participate in the Reality Experience and after completing the project makes the work of planning and carrying out this all-day event quite worthwhile.
More than one young person has told volunteers the experience helped them understand why it is important to stay in school, stay off drugs and avoid teen pregnancy are so important. They also learn that there is more to raising and providing for a family's needs than they ever imagined.