National CU Foundation Holds “Financial Reality Fair” at GAC

Special event highlighted innovative youth financial education experience

In conjunction with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, DC last week, the National Credit Union Foundation’s (NCUF) REAL Solutions Program held their first D.C. Financial Reality Fair. A Reality Fair is an interactive financial literacy tool for high school students.

The fair was held at the Rayburn House Office Building on March 2, 2011. Approximately 40-50 area high school students attended from H.D. Woodson High School. GAC attendees and others also stopped by to learn more about the Reality Fair concept.

“I think the fair engaged our students in the process of learning more effectively than any field trip I personally have ever seen,” said David Mauldin, Vice Principal. “Soon many of them will be out in the real world where every day is a ‘financial reality fair.’ They are all more prepared to make wiser choices because of this event.”

Volunteer Gerry Singleton helps a teen spin the fair’s “Wheel of Reality.”

“We were proud to hold this Reality Fair at GAC,” said Bucky Sebastian, NCUF Executive Director. “Financial education for our nation’s youth is an integral part of the Foundation’s mission as well as credit unions. I hope to see more credit unions and leagues holding their own reality fairs soon.”

The GAC event was sponsored by NCUF with support and expertise from:

  • The Credit Union League of Connecticut, who created the program and materials the D.C. Fair based upon their award -winning program. Connecticut credit unions have hosted Fairs since 2008 with over 4,000 students attending this interactive educational experience. For more information contact Barb Bass at the League ( or visit
  • CUNA’s Mad City Money, a hands-on simulation for youth and gives them a taste of the real world—complete with occupation, salary, spouse, student loan debt, credit card debt, and medical insurance payments.
  • America's Credit Union Museum's CU 4 Reality, a hands-on comprehensive training package centered on the interaction between students, educators, parents, credit unions and business volunteers.
  • HarborOne Credit Union’s Credit for Life Fair, which has been running in high schools since 2001. The Brockton, Mass. CU has won numerous awards for their fair, which is attended by thousands of students every year (see video coverage of their fair here).
  • Area credit unions such as HEW Federal Credit Union provided volunteers and the school connection and Congressional Federal Credit Union helped with program logistics and provided volunteers. The Maryland & DC Credit Union Association also provided logistical support.
  • Credit Union Development Educators (CUDEs) in attendance at the GAC also volunteered for the event.

Volunteers Mark Lynch (left) and John Keet (right) counsel teens on their budgets after visiting all the booths at the fair.

“It was truly a satisfying experience to be in any way part of the Reality Fair at GAC,” said Tony Emerson, President/CEO of the Credit Union League of Connecticut. “This fair accomplished the goal of highlighting the benefits and importance of conducting youth financial education. It also highlighted the dedication of the many credit union system volunteers that lend their time and talents to making sure these endeavors are carried out successfully. It is my sincere hope that other Leagues will see the overwhelming value of this financial education and take steps toward conducting such events in their respective states. After all, these are our future members!”

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.

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