Community Action Agency Empowers Teens to Envision Their Future through Reality Enrichment and Life Lessons Simulations

Being a teenager is a critical period of time that plays a huge role in influencing and shaping a young adult’s path towards self-sufficiency. Many teenagers face different life choices and experiences that will dramatically and directly affect their future, but some teens might not be aware of the consequences. Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation is determined to make sure teenagers in their community are aware and are actively taking hold of their future.

Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC) developed and implemented the Reality Enrichment And Life Lessons (REALL) youth-focused community initiative. Recognizing the importance of working with teenagers, scores of local and regional partners worked with OACAC to help develop, implement, and support REALL. Local partners included (but were not limited to): banks; community foundations; churches; local school districts; University Extension; Career Centers; youth-serving organizations; county government; state government; local colleges and universities; mental health agencies; local service organizations; and individual community volunteers. Staff time and CSBG funds were used to plan and facilitate simulations, networking events, meetings, training, coordination of volunteers, and finalization of REALL kit copyrighting. The result of this community-wide collaboration is REALL: a hands-on experience for youth, ages 12-18, during which they simulate different life choices and experiences, showing how their actions today can affect their future.

reall simulation score learning center 1The REALL experience is divided into three sections:  an introduction, the simulation and a debriefing. During the introduction, participants are given instructions and time to review their packet of information, as well as ask questions. During the simulation, participants role play both a reactive and proactive scenario. In the reactive scenario, they have dropped out of high school, some have legal histories, they are either unemployed or underemployed and none have adequate income to pay their bills. In the proactive scenario, youth have graduated from high school and continued education or secondary training; they are all employed, and have enough income to pay all of their bills plus have extra income for savings.reall simulation score learning center 18

During the debriefing, participating youth break into small groups and discuss both the reactive and proactive scenarios, sharing their experiences and feelings. Adults facilitate the small groups and lead the discussions in a direction about the importance of education and decision-making.

Since implementation, 2,182 youth participated in REALL simulations in the ten-county service area, receiving valuable lessons on the ways that decisions have the potential to shape their futures. In the debriefing portion of the simulation, participants are making real-time decisions to change course on previous notions to drop out of school. Some of the youth served through the project have graduated and returned as volunteers to impact younger generations of students. Participants report a better understanding of lessons their parents, teachers, and caregivers are trying to impart regarding decisions and consequences. They also report a better understanding of the energy and resources required to maintain basic needs in adult life. A recent participant stated:

 “I am so glad I went through this program. It really opened my eyes up to what I need to change in my life and proved to me I do need to finish high school and stay out of trouble.” 

Southwest Missouri schools that have implemented the project are reporting a decrease in their dropout rate. Many area schools are now providing the simulation experience to an entire class of students each year. OACAC REALL simulations empowers these youth to actively make decisions that will help them move toward a vision of their future that they now feel is under their control.

If you would like more information about this innovative, scalable project, please visit the OACAC website at You can also email OACAC at or reach Jennifer Olson at (417) 447-0554.

Written by Rae Tamblyn in collaboration with Jennifer Olson, OACAC