Real world simulation

Real world simulations prepare youth for adulthood

In recognition of Second Chance Month, youth development centers across North Carolina highlighted the theme of reentry this month, hosting a series of real-world simulations designed to teach youth in their care the realities of adult life – from selecting a career to maintaining a balanced budget.

On April 17, Lenoir Youth Development Center held its second annual real-world simulation. This event was bookended by a similar event at Chatham YDC on April 3 and third simulation at Edgecombe YDC on April 24.  Each of these simulations is designed to engage older youth in the facilities, some of whom will be on the cusp of adulthood upon their release. This is the third year this type of event has been held in JJDP facilities.

Chatham Microsociety
The event at Lenoir YDC on April 17 was one of three such events happening across the state during Second Chance Month. Pictured here is the microsociety event at Chatham YDC earlier in April.

“We want them to see the reality of how far their income will stretch,” explained Dr. Michael T. Williams, JJDP Education Consultant for Student Transitions. “The other thing that we want them to see is that education equals income – the more education you have, typically, the more money you are going to make. Our students who chose more skilled professions – welders, carpenters, professionals - were able to live a different lifestyle than those who chose less skilled positions. We want them to see the correlation.”

“I gave the kids a chance to pick their dream careers and then I shared background research, job outlooks and salaries in Eastern North Carolina,” added Cheryl Thompson, Lenoir YDC Student Transition Coordinator. “Then I shared the postsecondary path so they know how to get to the dream job they want.”

With that information in hand, youth then received their first difficult lesson in ‘adulting’: Thompson demonstrated how taxes are deducted from their salary before they even see their paycheck. With their take-home pay calculated, the youth were ready to begin the simulation. 

Making Ends Meet

Upon entering the Lenoir YDC gymnasium, the teens were greeted by staff members at a variety of stations, ranging from housing and food to transportation and furniture. Baked into the simulation were approximate 2024 real-world prices, accounting for inflation. Using their take-home pay, their goal was to navigate all the stations without going in the red.

For a number of youth who already have children waiting at home, a summons immediately directed them to the first station, and a bill they are legally obligated to pay – child support. This expense alone amounted to thousands of dollars per month, leaving them at a significant disadvantage as they attempted to make ends meet. Childcare, likewise, added several hundred dollars to the equation per month.

Next came the most basic of necessities. An array of housing options were available, with realistic prices listed for 1- and 2-bedroom rentals in Greenville, Greensboro, Charlotte and Carrboro. Seeing sky high rents for 1-bedroom apartments, many youth recognized that a 2-bedroom with a roommate might be the most affordable route with which to begin. Those who had selected a military career path were pleasantly surprised to see they qualified for free on-base housing.

Utilities, likewise, were based on average state prices, totaling approximately $350 per month for gas, electric and water bills. Add to that modern necessities such as internet and mobile phone, as well as luxuries such as cable TV, and youth learned the benefit of possibly bundling these types of expenses.

transportation station
From securing housing and transportation to buying groceries and furniture, youth were introduced to the full range of adult responsibilities.

Groceries also proved to be a tremendous expense. On the low end, youth could expect to spend $400 per month just to support their own nutritional needs. Additional family members, or adding organic options, could bring that bill to nearly $1,200 per month.

The transportation options were also an eye-opener. Bookending the options were the newest, most flashy 2024 models, in contrast to low-cost options such as a bicycle or bus pass. Scattered in between were a variety of reasonable pre-owned vehicles, pending credit approval and financing. This booth also offered a lesson on the term “lemon” and the importance of insurance and emergency savings.

Furniture and clothing, though not necessarily monthly expenses, also factored into the budget, with options ranging from yard sale and discount store to high-end designer brands. Then, rounding out the budget sheet were miscellaneous items, ranging from critical services such as health insurance and personal care to non-essentials like eating out and entertainment.

For those who struggled to make their budget work, a loan was available through the bank, but only if they were able to qualify with good credit – and then at the peril of steep interest payments. While the teens had to make several difficult choices throughout the simulation, the biggest choice and greatest indicator of success began with the career they chose going into the exercise.

“Coming into it, they thought it was going to be a breeze,” Thompson reflected. “But once they saw the check stubs and their career choices, they found out that they may have to do a little work and not everything is going to be handed to them. In order to survive, and live comfortably, they may have to do things like work two jobs and consider having a roommate.”

The Bottom Line

In the final estimation, some youth were more successful with managing their money than others. Though there was sometimes an element of frustration when budgets didn’t work out, the exercise invariably gave youth a fresh perspective on navigating adult life. 

CL King
The Lenoir YDC event concluded with a presentation from motivational speaker C.L. King, who encouraged youth to look beyond their current circumstances and reach for something greater.

“The experience I got here showed me what can happen in real life,” reflected one Lenoir YDC youth. “No matter how much money you have and how much money you make, you have to always budget your money so you can live off of it for the rest of your life. No matter if you’re making a million dollars, or $10,000, you’ve got to budget it.”

For many youth, especially those who will immediately be entering the adult world upon release, the exercise was a wakeup call, both with regards to finances and what it takes to meet their obligations.

“The lesson I took away is that it gave me motivation for life,” said another youth, who hopes to obtain his commercial driver’s license. “Being an adult can be hard sometimes. I underestimated it, because life seems so easy, but now that I’m getting older, I understand it can be hard. It was a good experience.”

“I’m appreciative that our team has made a commitment to help show these young people the realities of what they are going to face once they reach adulthood,” Williams concluded. “Our population is getting older. Many of our youth are 16, 17 or 18, so adulthood is going to come a lot faster than it did in the past. I’m glad our team is working together to give them the skills they are going to need to make it on the outside.” 

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