Welcome to Reality: Chamber Career Readiness Programs Prep Students for the Future

Amanda Ellis


The first time I volunteered for Reality Check, I was surprised by how seriously 9th graders took life in Realville USA. 

“Well, I haven’t visited the bank yet.”

“I’ll need to go back to school or I’ll never cover all these expenses.”

“Wow, stuff is expensive.”

Yeah, you’re telling me, kid.

Reality Check is a real life simulation for high school first year students to think about what their lives will be like in nine to 10 years. They indicate the education level they think they’ll attain, the kind of housing and car they want, how many children they might like, and more.

Now, if you have at least a few years of ‘adulting’ under your belt, one perk of volunteering for Reality Check is the funny perspectives students have on what things cost, how much taxes are, etc. Remember when you wanted to be a fashion designer who lived in an 11-bedroom mansion?

After students think about their preferences, they’re assigned a hypothetical career, family and income scenario. One student might be an electrical engineer who is single with a 4-year-old boy. Another might be a hairstylist with no children and a spouse who is also employed. Pretty much any family or career scenario you can imagine is a possibility.

Participants then visit 12 booths, staffed by volunteers, where they make decisions regarding typical expenses and what will fit their budgets. Stations range from Realville Automotive to Realville Utilities to That’s Life – a booth that doles out unexpected events that will impact the budget (and we all know how enjoyable those are in the non-hypothetical world). 

Great fun is had by all, but more importantly, students learn important life lessons around money, education and careers. They reported based on the 2016-17 school year that:

  • 98% better understand how education affects future salary
  • 90% will wait to have children until they can afford them
  • 77% learned about payroll deductions
  • 90% better understand their parents’ concerns about money

Reality Check is one of six career readiness programs the Chattanooga Chamber brings to more than 16,500 students in nearly every Hamilton County public school each year.

They’re delivered by more than 1,100 volunteers with varied professional backgrounds from more than 200 companies.

These volunteers use their life and work experience to engage our future workforce with programs spanning grades six to 12:

College Day Out
In this program, sixth graders from inner city and rural schools visit Bryan College, Chattanooga State Community College, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology or the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In five years, more than 6,000 students have experienced a real-life half-day college experience and campus tour through College Day Out. This year’s focus will be on Opportunity Zone middle schools:  Dalewood, Orchard Knob and East Lake.
Career Crunch
This two-day career awareness fair for eighth graders engages local professionals to teach students about the educational requirements for in-demand jobs, encouraging good choices.
Reality Check
Ninth graders learn about budgeting and the connection between education level and income with Reality Check. Students roleplay as heads of household providing for their hypothetical families.
Get a Job
Interviewing skills, job applications and dressing for success are among the topics this program covers with 10th graders to prepare them for the workforce.
Who Wants To Be a Millionaire
A money management program for 11th graders, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire focuses on saving, financial planning, credit card management and other financial literacy topics.
College & Career Fair
Junior and senior high school students network with college representatives and members of our business community at the College & Career Fair, staffed by volunteer vendors who set up booths to share information about higher education and career opportunities.

Meet a Volunteer

June Puett, Extension Agent at University of Tennessee Extension, helped develop several of the Chamber’s career readiness programs and is a committed volunteer. Here she tells us more about her experiences helping deliver these to students:

Trend: When have students made you laugh during your work with these programs?

Puett: As part of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire program, we ask students to hold a baby doll as we explain it costs $245,000 to raise a child. The students’ reactions range from cradling the baby as if it were real to goofing off. Both reactions result in a lot of laughter. Either way, they have realizations about waiting to have children until they earn a good salary, as well as the importance of staying out of debt so they can save and invest at an early age.

In our scenario, they stop investing $200 per month in their retirement account due to the expense of parenting. Luckily, they’ve hypothetically contributed to that account for 10 years and allowed the money to accumulate, so they’ll earn $600,000 at retirement age due to compounded interest. But they could have earned thousands more if they’d kept contributing.

It’s estimated that millennials will need $2 million to maintain a comfortable retirement lifestyle. We inform students that many employers no longer offer pension plans, so it will be up to them to develop good money skills and discipline with everyday spending habits.  

We start this program by asking who wants to be a millionaire, and we laugh when every hand in the room goes up. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but we focus on how having enough money to pay bills makes life less stressful.  

T: How did you get involved as a volunteer for our career readiness programs?

P: In 2002, I invited the Chamber to participate in the local Tennessee Saves financial literacy program. We realized our goals were similar and that was the basis of a 15-year partnership. I bring my background in education and experience in program development and volunteer management, while the Chamber provides a network of professionals and resources. 

I chaired the Reality Check initiative and developed the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire program. 

We introduced Millionaire before personal finance courses became a requirement for high school graduation in Tennessee. Today it enhances what students learn in the classroom.  They appreciate the business community taking time to visit and share real world experiences. 

I love watching their expressions when they learn how much credit can cost them and how much money saving for a down payment can save them over time.

Teachers and counselors often share their own experiences. They say if they had participated in a program like Millionaire in high school, they would have made better choices about money. 

T: How do you feel our work with these career readiness programs makes a difference?

P: We measure impact through immediate feedback and surveys. It’s rewarding to read the comments.

An East Ridge student said he’d been spending all his income from two jobs on two trucks. The program motivated him to sell one of his vehicles and save $400 a month.  

Students also report small spending changes, such as eating at home instead of out and reducing the number of soft drinks they consume.

The Millionaire program discusses the economic impact of smoking, and last year, 82 percent of those surveyed said they’d reduced or stopped the use of tobacco products or didn’t start in the first place.

Want to get involved?

Contact Cathy Humble at [email protected] or 423.763.4321.

Special thanks to career readiness program sponsors:

Hamilton County Department of Education

Chattanooga State Community College

Tennessee Army National Guard

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

UT Extension


Lookout Counseling Association

McKee Foods Corp.


Scenic Community Credit Union

SHRM Chattanooga

Signal Centers


Edward Jones

Franklin Wealth Management

Gear Up Project – UTC

Millennium Bank

The Samaritan Center

Southeastern Trust Company

Tennessee Saves

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union

Special thanks to companies who give their employees’ time to our career readiness programs:

3H Group Hotels

3M Company

58 Trophies Awards & Apparel

AGC of East Tennessee

Abrams Publishing

Academic Solutions

Actor & Script

Adaptive Methods

Advanced Energy Engineering & Design, Inc.

Advantage Staffing

Aesthetic & Wellness Spa

AIM Institute/Career Link

Alder & Cox, Inc.

Allen Family Resource Center​

Allstate Insurance


Ambiance Models & Talent

American Job Center

American Society of Quality (ASQ)

American Welding Society

Animal Care Center of Ooltewah

Annimar Associates

Application Researchers


Associated General Contractors

Association for Visual Artists

Astec, Inc.

Atlantic Capital Bank

Atlas Insurance

AXA Financial Advisors

Bank of America

Baker’s Barber College

Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon

Barret Albritton, Attorney

Beaulieu of America

Benchmark PT

Bethel Bible Village

Blood Assurance

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

Brewer Media Group

Bruster’s Real Ice Cream

Bryan College

Capital Financial Group

Caris Healthcare

CBL Properties

CertaPro Painters

Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel

Chambliss Center for Children

Chattanooga Allergy Clinic

Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Chattanooga Business Machines

Chattanooga Chapter TSCPA

Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company

Chattanooga Electrical JATC

Chattanooga Fire Department

Chattanooga Funeral Home

Chattanooga Goodwill

Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Dept.

Chattanooga Housing Authority

Chattanooga  Kids on the Block

Chattanooga Lookouts

Chattanooga Police Department

Chattanooga Public Library

Chattanooga Regional Manufacturing Association

Chattanooga Riverboat Company

Chattanooga State Community College

Chattanooga State Students

Chattanooga State TCAT

Chattanooga State VW Academy

Chattanooga Theatre Center

Chattanooga Times-Free Press

Chattanooga Zoo

Chattanoogan Hotel

Chattem, Inc.

CHP International

Cigna Healthcare

Citadel Communications

City of Chattanooga

City of East Ridge

City of Soddy-Daisy

Classic Network

Classical 90.5 WSMC

Cleaning Solutions

Coffey Insurance Agency

College Access Center

Comcast Chattanooga

Command Center

Community Foundation

Community Impact of Chattanooga

Community National Bank

Community Reconciliation

Community Trust & Banking Company

Consumer Credit Counseling Service


Cornerstone Automation

Corporate Connections

Courtyard by Marriott

Covenant Allergy

Creative Discovery Museum

CSCC Ahead Program


CTC Technology

CWC Office Furnishings


Dale’s Heating & Air

Debo’s Diner’s Inc. – Steak-n-Shake

Delta Airlines

Delta Sigma Theta

Department of Children’s Services

Dixie Industries

Double Cola

DoubleTree Hotel

Edward Jones Investment


episode49, LLC

Erlanger Health System

Fiberglass Specialties

First Tennessee Bank

First Volunteer Bank

Fitness Together

Franklin Wealth Management

G.R. Rush & Company

George Financial

Gill Industries

Girl Scouts

Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison

Greater Chattanooga Sports Committee

Green’s Eco Build & Design

H & R Block

HTI Staffing

Haman’s New Drivers

Hamilton County Department of Education

Hamilton County Government

Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department

Hamilton Place Mall

Hampton Inn

Handyman Matters

Healthcare Services Credit Union

Henderson, Hutcherson & McCullough


Home Away Extended Stay Studios

Home Depot

Homewood Suites

Honcho Hound Productions, LLC

Hope Job Support Ministry

Hospice of Chattanooga

IBEW Local Union #175


Independent Youth Services Foundation

ING Financial Partners

INS Network

Inception Beauty Industry

International College of Arts & Beauty

Interscape, Inc.

John Deere Health

Journey Educational Services.

Keller Williams Realty

Kelly Services

Kids On The Block

Komatsu America Corp.

Kordsa Global

Lattimore, Black, Morgan and Cain, P.C.

Lee University

Legal Shield

Liberty Mutual

Liberty Tax Service

Life Care Centers of America

Luken Holdings

Mannington Mills, Inc.

March Adams & Associates

Market Research Institute

Marketing Velocity

Marriott Downtown – Terrace Restaurant

Mars & Wrigley


McKamey Animal Center

McKee Foods

McKoon, Williams & Haun

Memorable Events

Memorial Health Care System

Memorial North Park

Merrill Lynch

Mesa Associates, Inc.


Millennium Bank

Miller & Martin

Miller-Motte Technical College

Modern Woodmen

Molly Maid of Chattanooga

Morgan Stanley

Mountain City Publishing

Mountain View Ford

Mr. Transmission

Mr. Trophy

Neill & Gunter, Inc.

New Covenant Fellowship Church

New Horizons Computer Learning Center

North American Credit Services

Northside Neighborhood House

Northwest Georgia Bank

Northwest Mutual Financial Network

New York Life

Northwestern Mutual

Northwestern Technical College

Office Depot

Office Furniture Warehouse

Omni Source Staffing

Ooltewah Baptist Church

Ooltewah United Methodist Church

Open Arms Care

P & C Construction

Parent Volunteers

Parkridge Medical Center

Partners in Care

Partnership for Families, Children & Adults

PMI Chattanooga

Pre-Paid Legal Service

Private Dispute Resolution Services


Public Education Foundation

RSS Insurance


Raymond James & Assoc.

Read House Hotel

Realty Center

Realty Executives

Rentenbach Contractors

Republic Parking


Ruby Falls

S & S Creations

Sandler Training

Scenic City Realty

Scenic City Signs

Scenic Community Credit Union

Schultz & Associates

SE TN Development District

Shelter Insurance

Sherman Reilly

Signal Centers

Smart Bank

Southeast Diesel, Inc.

Southern Adventist University

Southern Belle

Southern Champion Tray

Southern Management

Spherion Staffing

Stanley Heights Baptist

State Farm Insurance

State of TN

Stop the Madness

Stowers CAT Machinery


Synovus Bank


TP Events

Tennessee American Water Co.

Tennessee Aquarium

Tennessee Army National Guard

Tennessee College of Allied Technology

Tennessee Solar Solutions

Tennessee Valley Authority

Tennessee Valley Public Power Association

Tennessee Wesleyan College

The Crash Pad

The Meeting Company

The Plaque Shack

The Raines Group

Thinking Media

Thompson Engineering


TN Army National Guard

TN Department of Transportation

TN Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development

TN Small Business Development Center

TN Valley Federal Credit Union

TN Valley Railroad

Two Maids & A Mop

U S Xpress

U. S. Dept. of Labor Job Corps

UBS Mountain City Financial

United Way

UnitedHealth Group

University of Phoenix


Uptown Vision Center

Urban League of Greater Chattanooga

US Dept. of Labor

UT Extension


UTC Retirees

UTC Students

UTC Upward Bound

Virginia College of Business

Visual Group

Vision Hospitality Group


Volkswagen Group

W.R. Grace

Walden Security

WDSI Fox 61

WEC Welding Institute

Welcome Mat Services


Worth Construction


WUTC Radio

YMCA – YES Program

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