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Reality World: Junior Auxiliary wants students to set goals now to live successfully later

Special to The Daily Leader, by Katie Furr

The Brookhaven Junior Auxiliary’s annual Reality World offers a dose of “reality” to students as they progress through stations set up to represent real-life situations such as purchasing a car, buying or renting a house and paying insurance, phone, internet, cable and utility bills. Students also attend sessions with mentors to learn about unexpected expenses and life decisions they’ll possibly make as adults.

This year, the group held Reality World Sept. 12-13 at the Lincoln Civic Center. The students were given imaginary annual salaries and were tasked with stretching their dollars to fill their needs.

The JAs hope is to encourage students at this point in their academic career to set goals for success during both high school and post-graduation.

“Volunteering during Reality World is always an experience to see students realize how much money it really takes to live and what things actually cost. This is one of Junior Auxiliary’s best projects,” said life member Shannon Miller.

Representatives were on hand from car dealerships to explain the costs associated with purchasing or leasing different vehicles. This year, Toyota of Brookhaven and Sullivan Ford participated, showing examples of cars and prices.  Insurance and risk managers then walked students through the costs of vehicle and personal insurance. 

Betsy Smith Properties presented students with information related to purchasing or renting a home and what they could expect to afford based on their given monthly salary.

CableOne, Entergy, and Magnolia Electric Power explained utility costs and how much a student could expect to pay based on the size of their dwelling or the cable package selected. CSpire’s station showed students various phone options and plan costs, so they could budget for that monthly expense.

Students also visited a Walmart station, where they were given prices of groceries and other household items and then had to figure the costs of their monthly grocery bills.  Over 75 volunteers from the community assisted students as they rotated through these stations.

This year, two additional stations were added, with one covering incidental costs. Students were given random cards with various costs, varying from doctor appointments to car repairs to recreational activities. The second new station was a discussion session with Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven. Doty, a JA life member, said she “delivered a message of personal responsibility that I’ve heard our governor use with many high school groups. To be successful, students must complete their education, stay away from drugs, and wait to have children.”

The money students are allowed to spend is relative to their current grade point average. That way, they see that a prospective job is directly related to their academic success.

The project began in 2010 when Kenny Goza with the Mississippi Scholars Program approached the Junior Auxiliary chapter looking for help. In other communities, a project like this was produced by the Scholars Program, but being a new venture itself, there was a lack of manpower needed to pull off such an event.  Goza brought in a representative from a district that already had a reality-based project running and explained the logistics to the group. The Brookhaven chapter took an immediate interest.

“We had the perfect combination of talent among our provisional class that year to coordinated all of the volunteers needed,” life member Glenda Hux said.

Seven years later, she is pleased with the additions that have been made as well as the elements that have remained since the very beginning, noting “the eight minute rotations are still running exactly how we designed them the very first year.”

Stephany Smith, who chaired Reality World this year, is thankful to merchants and leaders in the area who helped.

“This project would not be possible without the support of our community and our eager volunteers who give their time to the students of Brookhaven and Lincoln County,” she said.

Funding for the program comes from the annual JA “Peel ‘Em & Eat ‘Em” shrimp dinner, which will be Oct. 19 from 3-7 p.m. at the Lincoln Civic Center and tickets — $15 each — are on sale now from JA members. There’s also a ticket hotline number: 601-754-4319. Plates may be available on the day of the sale, but the JAs make no guarantees.