Reality Store 2014 recap!

In November, just before Thanksgiving, financial aid administrators throughout the state of Illinois gathered at Kershaw Elementary School in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood for our annual Reality Store. 74 students, grades 6-8, took part in the reality store; while it was a small group, it was certainly a lively bunch!

The day started off with Past President Mary Shaw introducing the concept of the reality store to the students at a short assembly, after which the sixth graders started their journey through a month in the life of an adult! Students worked with Lorie (Governor’s State), Kelsey (University of St. Francis), Laura C. (St. Xavier University), Marchello (UIC) and Aesha (Illinois Institute of Technology) to draw their family size (single/married, no kids/number of kids) and occupation/salary at random.

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Next, each student moved on to the various stations to complete tasks such as talking with Jaime & Jessica (Concordia University) to determine their grocery expenditures; deciding whether they would be frugal, moderate or extravagant about clothing budget with Erika (St. Francis); and getting help from Laura N. (University of Chicago) and Betsy (Illinois State) to choose their housing type. A visit to Jennifer & Adrian (College of DuPage) at the Wheel of Fortune drove home the effect that chance might have on your expenses—did you earn $100 at your garage sale, or do you have a $200 deductible to pay from a car accident?

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At the check-out table, Lyn (Illinois State) and Candace (Danville Area Community College) reviewed the activity with each student before they could get their goodie bag. Students who had a surplus at the end of the month might be encouraged to start a retirement account, increase their loan payment, or open an emergency fund. If a student was in the red at the end of the month, they had to make some adjustment to their choices (maybe instead of a high-end sports car, a mid-range compact would fit their budget!)

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One of the students happened to select Associate Director of Financial Aid as her occupation. She seemed a bit skeptical at first, but by the time she checked out, she was excited to share her outcome–$125 left over for the month! When asked if she had considered what sort of career she wanted to pursue, her answer was, “I want to do this. Really—do you all have a card or something?” Keep your eyes open—someone out there may have this young lady as an eager applicant seeking a job as a financial aid counselor in ten years or so!


At the close of the afternoon, we all gathered in the auditorium for a short wrap-up assembly. Mary led the students in a short discussion to determine what they might have taken away from the reality store program. Many of the students indicated that it opened their eyes to the challenges their parents face, and the importance of continuing on through college in order to have a secure and successful future.

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All in all, it was a great afternoon with a group of bright, enthusiastic young people. As chair of the Diversity committee, I want to thank every volunteer who took the time out of their busy schedule to spend the day in Chicago; without you, we could never have pulled this off! Special thanks also to Erika Guzman for recruiting volunteers; Sylvia Ponce de Leon and Lorie Webster for soliciting items to give out to the students; and Michelle Wortel for designing the t-shirt each student received. Lastly, thanks to each member of the Diversity committee—your commitment and passion helped make this event a success.

In congruence with committee’s mission, we had a broad array of folks representing various institutional types, career levels, and communities throughout the state. The Reality Store, at a glance:

– Educational institutions represented: 20
– Out-of-state institution represented: 1
– Lender/servicer representatives: 3
– Proprietary institutions: 1
– Public, 4-year: 7
– Public, 2-year: 4
– Private: 8

We even had about 10 volunteers who were new to the Reality Store this year–in fact, one of the newbies decided to take a turn in the reality store herself:


All in all, it was a great day. Here’s to next year!

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