On Thursday, May 17, 2012, Columbia Central School in Steger, Illinois, held its 4th Annual Reality Store for the 8th Grade class.Reality Store is an exercise designed to drop the students from their normal euphoria into the real world that we adults are all far too familiar with. For the 4th year, South-Southwest Suburban United Way (SSW) volunteered to represent charitable giving.Divided into groups, students are required to visit the Reality Store where they learn who and what they are; receiving an occupation, salary, marital status and how many children they have, if any. They then visit required stops like banking, housing, utilities, transportation, insurance, child care, food and clothing, as well as optional stops like entertainment, charitable giving, legal, financial counseling, education and training.Each student has a bank book with savings and checking registers he/she is responsible for completing. The objective is to provide for all the necessities of life, to have a little fun and to have some money left at the end of the day. To complicate matters, students are randomly selected for unexpected life events. These can be anything from getting a tax return to being arrested for failure to pay child support to a flat tire.It is an incredible learning exercise for the students and very enlightening for the volunteers. One young student was wealthy and became a leadership giver; he then received his unexpected life event of winning the lottery. Demonstrating generosity, he returned to the charity booth to donate a large portion of his winnings. We had many students who wanted to volunteer and many whose parents are current donors. This year, SSW tracked the charitable donations and we were pleasantly surprised to see these young people gave in excess of $8,400. Too bad it’s “make believe”. What is real is the students’ understanding of the social service needs in the community and the need to support those social service providers.Post submitted on behalf of Jessica Plechaty, Fundraising Manager at South-Southwest Suburban United Way.