Many members of the North Platte Valley Board of REALTORS® (NPVBOR) are property managers who know first-hand the struggles of tenants trying to make ends meet in the poorest county in Wyoming. This fall, with a Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the board partnered with WyoHELP, a non-profit that addresses housing instability, to conduct a financial literacy program for the county’s eighth graders. It was such a success that the school district is fully on-board to continue the program, and the REALTORS® hope to expand it to help prepare high school students.
Shelly Duncan, who serves as president of WyoHELP’s board, has also been president of Wyoming REALTORS®, and chair of NAR’s Housing Opportunities Committee; she is currently a member of NAR’s Community Engagement Committee. As she explains, “So many decisions made before graduating from high school can affect a person’s eventual ability to rent or buy a home. Our members wanted to catch kids, and help them, prior to making poor decisions or creating poor habits. Many of them have been sheltered, living in small communities and on farms, and have no idea about things like rental leases and other responsibilities involved with living away from home. By bringing them the Reality Town program, we start them thinking about the correlation between good grades and good jobs, and how much life really costs.
The Reality Town program introduces these concepts with classroom exercises like job hunting and resume writing, and learning to write checks and balance a checkbook. The big event is a two-hour simulation in a ‘real-world’ town, where booths are manned by volunteers who guide the students through the experience of having a certain salary and realistic expenses.
This fall, in Torrington, Wyoming, NPVBOR offered the training to 129 8th-graders from three different schools. While it was initially challenging to get the schools’ attention and convince them that the program was relevant, having experienced it, the school district and the teachers are now on board; the curriculum actually satisfies a unit in the social studies teaching standards, and the teachers will be using the workbooks for future units taught in the classroom.
Preparation for the main event took the committee of REALTORS® and affiliates a couple of months. It was held at the local fairgrounds, a neutral site that Duncan’s ‘marketing brain’ devised to sidestep the bureaucracy involved with conducting a program within the schools. Local businesses were invited to participate, and volunteers ranging from insurance brokers to dental and hospital workers stepped up to help. The REALTOR® members loved it, performing as grocers and pet store owners – as well as REALTORS®. All the contributing businesses were encouraged to bring branded materials and were promoted by advertisements in the local paper and radio outlets.
The reality of living in a grown-up’s world came as a real shock to most of the youngsters, reports Duncan. “At the mortgage table, after students had paid their bill, they were told, ‘Now, you have to have to pay your property tax’; they all said, ‘Huh?!’ They had no idea. Resource officers issued citations for dogs that were at-large, and for loitering. Some students had to get second and third jobs to meet their expenses.” According to Duncan, the prevailing attitude was “Being an adult is hard! And expensive!” The post-assessments revealed that prior to the program, most of the students had no sense of any correlation between their grades and their future job options. Nor had they ever discussed household finances with their parents. Afterwards, they demonstrated an understanding that their grades mattered to their future, and a desire to delay adulthood as long as possible!
Looking ahead, NPVBOR is hoping the school district will allow high school juniors to participate in the program, as part of the personal finance requirement for graduation. “Equipping students with financial literacy can turn future renters into homeowners and prevent financial hardship. That’s a win-win for REALTORS®, community members and Wyoming as a whole,” concludes Duncan.
To learn more about how the North Platte Valley Board of REALTORS® is helping the young people in its community to understand the financial realities of being an adult and how they can begin to prepare for their futures, contact Shelly Duncan, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-575-2894.