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Chamber program gives students a glimpse at real life

Baldwin High School seniors got hit with a dose of reality this past week.

That was thanks to the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce’s Reality Check program, an exercise that presents high schoolers with real-life scenarios they must navigate to see if they can keep their life on the rails and their bank accounts out of the red. 

“Reality Check is a program to help our local high school students with financial literacy, to give them a glimpse into what life looks like for them after high school and into the future,” Chamber President/CEO Kara Lassiter said. “We want the students to think about the choices they make today and how those choices affect them in the future.”

Funded by a grant from Truist Bank, Reality Check is taken by Chamber staff into the local high schools every year. It was set up inside the Baldwin High fine arts atrium Thursday and Friday. Lassiter begins the exercise by handing out sheets of paper to each student. On that paper is the student’s life, their education level, job and income, marital status, and whether or not they have kids. The adults-for-a-day must visit up to 15 stations detailing the various costs associated with daily life like housing, buying an automobile, insurance, utilities, groceries, clothing, and childcare for those with children. The stations are manned by community volunteers who can help guide the students in their decision-making. 

Think life is going well? Those participants better keep their fingers crossed as they approach the “That’s Life” booth. There things turn into a game of chance as students draw from a bucket full of curveballs life can throw. A flat tire means a surprise $150 expense for a replacement. Getting a new job means $250 suddenly spent on clothing. But the “That’s Life” bucket not only taketh away, it can also giveth. Students struggling to make ends meet may hit the jackpot and suddenly turn their lives around by winning the lottery. 

For those not so lucky, they can get a second job or go back to school to increase their earning power. 

Also included in Reality Check is a nonprofit booth.

“We want them to understand the importance of giving back,” said Lassiter. “Even if you don’t have the financial means to do so, you can do it by volunteering.”

So how were the students faring on Thursday? Results ran the gamut. 

“I have no kids,” BHS senior Jamiya Butts said. “I’m married and life is kind of good. I’ve got $2,000 left at the end of the month, but I’m still trying to get another job to save up for vacation.”

While Cikeria Butts may share a last name with Jamiya (no relation though), Reality Check took them down wildly different life paths. 

“I’m a high school dropout on this paper,” Cikeria said. “I’m not making anything. I’ve got a baby. Shouldn’t have ever done that. There’s a lot going on and I can’t afford anything. It probably all started with me being a high school dropout. I’m going to take a picture of this and send it to my mama. I don’t know how y’all do it. 

“This taught me to stay focused, stay in school, and stick to my goals.”

Sounds like mission accomplished.