The New Jersey Credit Union League and the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation are working to bring Financial Reality Fairs to high schools throughout New Jersey by leveraging existing credit union relationships with the schools. To help fund the initiative, the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation received a grant last year from the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) and REAL Solutions program. A Reality Fair is an interactive financial literacy tool for high school students.
Central Jersey FCU President/CEO Mike Reilly explains the different food purchase options to Woodbridge High School students.
New Jersey credit unions provided Reality Fairs for six high schools throughout New Jersey and have reached approximately 825 students. The credit unions actually completed seven fairs - one high school was so impressed by their first Reality Fair, they wanted to do another one so that their entire freshman class attended the fair. Each school and set of teachers that the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation worked with explained that they now wanted to include the Reality Fair as part of their personal finance curriculum because it is a great way to incorporate what was being taught in class with hands-on experience.
“Through REAL Solutions, we are looking to offer more Reality Fairs in New Jersey and around the country,” said Lois Kitsch, NCUF’s National REAL Solutions Program Director. “We hope more credit unions and leagues use this effective financial literacy tool to make a positive impact in the lives of high school students in their community.”
The New Jersey Credit Union Foundation’s Reality Fairs were received with great feedback from students and the local press. For example, after a fair at Pompton Lakes High School, student Meghean Dougherty told the Suburban Trends, “I thought it was really eye opening, like I didn't realize that you actually had to pay all of that. I knew you had to pay insurance and stuff, but I didn't know it would be so expensive."
"I liked it because it really taught me how tough life really is,” said student Nicole Santora. “I didn't think it would be this hard. I thought I was going to have so much more than I did."
Since starting their Reality Fair initiative, the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation has had many other school districts and organizations express interest in hosting fairs and in participating in the program. They also spoke at the New Jersey Business and Technology Teachers Association in May about the program and how it can help high school students. One of the credit unions that participated in the process has even used the Reality Fairs as a team-building exercise for its staff and plans to bring the fairs to families of staff members as well.
Students at the Monmouth Regional High School Reality Fair were so grateful, they created a thank you note for the host credit union to take back to their branch.
With the success of the Reality Fairs held this past school year, the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation is planning on also continuing this fun and interactive program to high schools during the 2011/2012 school year.
"Financial Reality Fairs are a great way for students to learn hands-on the importance of budgeting and saving, both widely unused concepts today,” said Candice Nigro, Director of Marketing and Communications at the New Jersey Credit Union League, who helps organize the Fairs. “It helps put into perspective the expectations of a student who doesn't regularly pay bills or have last minute expenses that need to be paid on their own."
The Reality Fair concept is a unique opportunity for students to experience some of the financial challenges they will face when they start life on their own. It’s a hands-on experience in which students identify their career choice and starting salaries then complete a budget sheet requiring them to live within their monthly salary while paying for basics such as housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, and food. Additional expenditures such as entertainment and travel are factored in as well. Throughout the fair, there are many temptations for additional spending, and students must learn to balance their wants and needs to live on their own. After the students have visited the various booths covering components of independent living, students balance their budget, and then sit down with a financial counselor for review.
About REAL Solutions®
REAL Solutions® is the signature program of the National Credit Union Foundation. REAL — ― “Relevant, Effective, Asset-building, Loyalty-producing” — Solutions works to help credit unions offer a wide range of products and services that have proven successful in serving working families with low wealth and modest means. Using product/business models created and tested by credit unions, REAL Solutions disseminates information to credit unions through special meetings, an online impact center at www.realsolutions.coop, and state and national conferences. As NCUF’s signature program over the past four years, REAL Solutions has been adopted in 40 states and is saving members tens of millions of dollars. It has now become a documented business strategy for credit unions to grow their memberships by serving the underserved. Real people with real needs are finding REAL Solutions at credit unions.
About the National Credit Union Foundation (ncuf.coop):
The National Credit Union Foundation is the US credit union movement’s primary national philanthropic program provider, fundraiser and grant-maker. Through NCUF grants and programs, credit unions provide widespread financial education, create greater access to affordable financial services, and empower more consumers to save, build assets, and own homes.
NCUF is funded primarily by investments in the award-winning Community Investment Fund (CIF) and by generous Supporters led by the Credit Union National Association and CUNA Mutual Group. All NCUF donors provide support that empowers NCUF and state credit union foundations to make a real impact in the credit union community.
The National Credit Union Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization. NCUF continues to earn the Better Business Bureau seal of approval as an “Accredited Charity” for meeting all 20 BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards for national charities.