Navigating the real world

Utility bills, student loans, rent checks and roommates can be an intimidating universe for Buncombe County teenagers and young adults to navigate. At the Oct. 1 Goodwill-sponsored, community collaborative Real World Event, 120 Buncombe County youths participated in a one-day networking simulation that helps give them a preview of adult life.

The goals of the program are threefold, said Kevin Hayes, manager of youth services at Goodwill Industries and lead event coordinator. “No. 1 is that kids get a real taste of the reality of our world. How much do things cost? What does a salary actually look like? Something that is tangible. Second, we want kids to be thinking about their future. What do I want to do? Is that going to be something I love to do? Is that going to be something I can afford to do? Where do I want to live? These kinds of things. Third, basically, just a general preparation for adulthood.”

The day began with workshops on banking, budgeting and social skills. Many of the participants learned basic skills, such as balancing a checkbook, for the first time.

Nicy B., age 20, found the budgeting workshop to be especially helpful (organizers asked that Xpress use partial names). “It’s really hard for me to have leftover money,” said Nicy. “I don’t really think of the ripple effect — like, if I buy a pair of shoes today, what effect that will have.” Nicy is currently taking classes at A-B Tech. She lives on her own and has a job as a waitress, but admits that she still has a lot to learn about making a living and urged the younger participants at the event to take full advantage of the information given.

“Definitely take it seriously,” Nicy said. “I know it seems 50 million years in the future, but you never know when you will have to really grow up.”

This piece of advice certainly rings true for the many participating teens who are currently living in foster care, Hayes explained. Those teens were given priority before extending the invitation to a wider pool of students in the area. The youngest participants were 15 years old.

“Some of these kids are hitting adult type situations both emotionally and physically … and they are just not ready,” he added. “Especially when you’re talking about kids in foster care who don’t have a home and who don’t have a family. They don’t have parents who have been telling them, ‘Here’s what it’s like.’ We as a society take kids out of their homes and we as a society are responsible for growing them.”

During the second half of the event, students were assigned an occupation based on an employment-educational assessment. The job provided a salary, and participants were challenged to develop a budget based on their salary, their basic needs — such as housing and food — and their “wants” (recreation and pets, for example).

About 20 booths were set up with signs, such as “insurance,” “housing,” “electronics,” “meals out,” “banking,” and “student loans.” Students visited the booths, determined the costs of their needs and wants, then factored those costs into their budgets. In addition to the housing booth, all participants were required to visit a booth called “life happens,” where participants paid for unexpected expenses such as an illness or accident.

April C., age 16, reported that “material things seemed less important” when she was forced to consider how much money she needed to spend on basic living expenses. When asked about her future, April shared her hopes to join the U.S. Air Force.

At the end of the simulation, participants sat down, brought out their calculators and took a hard look at their real-world costs.

“I learned basic finances for when I move out and need to find my own housing,” said 18-year-old Daniel L. as he tallied up his expenses. “I learned the importance of going to school and making enough money to survive.”

Daniel plans to attend college after graduation where he will major in psychology and art.

Volunteers and participants alike expressed a desire and need for more programs like the Real World Event.

“We as a community need to help this generation,” said Hayes. “I don’t think that there is enough light shining on the fact that, boy, we sure do have a lot of teenagers who need someone to help them walk through life.”

The Asheville Real World Event is sponsored by Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina in conjunction with Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services, Buncombe County Schools, Buncombe County Service Foundation and The Mountain Workforce Development Board. This year’s workshop was hosted by Biltmore Baptist Church. For more information, contact Manager of Youth Services Kevin Hayes at, 298-9093 or visit the Goodwill WNC website at

— Lea McClellan is an Asheville writer.


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About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is a freelance writer who likes to write stories about music, art, food, wellness and interesting locals doing interesting things.

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