Chamber celebrates 10th year of Keeping It Real program

Published 12:24 pm Monday, January 31, 2022

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The Shelby County Chamber has entered its 10th year of presenting Keeping It Real, a career readiness program geared toward money management, responsibility and all things “adulting.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic moved the program to a virtual format during the 2020-2021 year, The Shelby County Chamber headed back into the classroom in 2022.

Shelby County High School freshmen got a first-hand glimpse of the real world on Friday, Jan. 14, as The Shelby County Chamber and Bite of Reality partner eCO Credit Union brought the ShelbyOne initiative program to the SCHS campus.

Workforce development has been a top priority for the chamber over the past several years, and the program is intended to teach ninth-graders about the future challenges of adulthood and encourage them to prepare as they get closer to independence.

“Our hope for the program is that students can see the value in going after additional training and pursuing high-wage, high-opportunity careers,” Vice President of Community and Career Development Pari Barzegari said. “It’s a way we can engage with ninth-graders and develop a pathway to their future.”

The Chamber has recently revamped the program and added the Bite of Reality app, which eliminates paper budgets and guides students in an app-based platform, akin to online banking.

The program is open to both public and private schools in the Shelby County area between September and March each year.

Currently, it works in conjunction with the career prep classes at the high schools and teaches skills such as work ethic, time management and the importance of communication.

The program also puts heavy emphasis on financial planning for life after high school.

Barzegari said organizers hope students will learn the difference between gross and net income, the importance of budgeting and just how expensive “real life” can be.

Through the Bite of Reality app, sponsored by eCO Credit Union, freshmen will visit eight platforms to make decisions on expenses such as child care, utilities, finances, housing, transportation, groceries, clothing and entertainment.

“We are so thankful and excited to be partnering with The Shelby County Chamber for a second year to present Bite of Reality as part of the Keeping It Real Program,” eCO Credit Union Marketing Director Hope Finley said. “The hands-on gamification that is used for the Bite of Reality presentation is impactful for the students because they are in control of the decisions they make in regards to their simulated life-scenario. The app is designed for the students to ‘fail’ or ‘run out of money,’ because we learn best when we fail, and it better prepares them for making real purchasing decisions, with real money, and realize there are real-life consequences of bad money management.”

SCS educator Ashley Crumpton welcomed Keeping It Real into her career prep classrooms.

“Keeping It Real is such an amazing learning experience for high school students,” Crumpton said. “Through Keeping It Real, students are able to see the cost of living and general expenses that await them in adulthood. It is very eye-opening for them. Keeping It Real paired with Bite of Reality is a simulation that all students should walk through before they graduate.”

Student Campbell Aderholt said she learned as you get to a point in life where you start making money, you have to choose wisely on the daily needs of you and your family.

Student Mallory Venable said she learned keeping up with the money you spend or save is important in order to budget your money accurately to benefit your future.

With programs going through 12th grade, students beginning the Keeping It Real program as freshmen are just starting their journey.

Tenth-graders participate in Connect 2 Careers, which functions as an interactive career fair.

Juniors take part in Communication Matters to prepare for job interviews, resume building and other ways to showcase their talents.

As seniors, students learn more about local companies and their apprenticeships through Shelby County’s 58 Inc., which promotes workforce readiness and economic development.

For more information about the chamber programs offered to high school students, visit