Credit union hosts fair for area high schoolers

Above, local high schoolers attend Thursday’s Financial Reality Fair at Westwood High School. Volunteers representing local businesses talked with high schoolers about financial basics they will face after graduation. Below, Sara Pizziola, left, of Wilderness Sports, talks with Westwood High School senior Jacob Picotte about money matters during the fair. (Journal photos by Christie Bleck) Top graphic from Metro Creative.


Journal Staff Writer

ISHPEMING — Westwood High School senior Jacob Picotte wants to be a millwright.

But even millwrights — and just anyone who holds a job — have to balance a budget and find affordable housing.

Picotte was one of many high-school students from Westwood, Ishpeming, Negaunee, Marquette Alternative, Republic-Michigamme and Gwinn who learned “real world” basics at Marquette County’s second Financial Reality Fair on Thursday at Westwood.

The fair, sponsored by America’s credit unions, gave volunteers in the local workforce a chance to show teens how their choices will affect their financial futures.

They might have seen their parents drop off a rent check or buy groceries, but a lot of planning typically goes into those essential activities, and they probably can’t learn about that planning at football practice or even in math class.

Shae Kangas, member advocate for TruNorth Credit Union, coordinated the event along with Katie Wilcox, Negaunee branch manager of U.P. Catholic Credit Union.

Kangas said over 300 area high schoolers, mostly juniors and seniors, were invited to the fair.

However, they had to perform a little research first.

“They all chose their own career and researched what their starting salary in this area would be,” Kangas said. “We assigned them a random credit score, and then we input it all into a budget sheet and calculated their monthly take-home pay based on what they told us.”

The students were to use that take-home pay to purchase the goods and services they need to live.

Kangas said a teacher at each participating school arranged rosters and figured out what the kids “wanted to be when they grew up.”

Community volunteers staffed 13 stations at the fair, with those stations representing many walks of life, she said.

For example, Kangas said Fox Negaunee operated the transportation booth, Gauthier Insurance handled their insurance needs and Art Van Furniture provided advice about home furnishings.

“It brings together business, volunteers, and they get to talk to the kids that are about to enter the workforce and about to start, you know, spending those dollars locally,” Kangas said.

Benjamin Argall of RE/MAX Realty talked with the students about basic housing.

“They have the option of being with parents for $200 a month, or they can get up to a three-bedroom apartment and share with friends,” Argall said of his lesson plan.

Many students, he pointed out, chose the roommate option.

“Nobody wants to live with their parents,” Argall said.

He also showed them the cost of utilities, renters insurance and even the cost per square-foot, plus he compared the differences between living in a small town versus a large city.

Would-be millwright Picotte said it was pretty easy to learn about budgeting.

“It’s allowing me to see where I should spend money and not spend money, and things I need and things I don’t need,” Picotte said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is