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The Game of Life

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Emma Michalowski has been working as an intern in our supported housing programs since August 2016. She’s a senior at Champlain College working toward her BS in psychology with a minor in global studies. She’s interested in both mental health counseling and global mental health.

Emma researched and created an ongoing life-skills training program for youth in our emergency shelter, The Landing, and our transitional housing. Here are her reflections:

As part of my senior capstone project, I developed a life skills training program for the youth in Spectrum’s supported housing.

The Game of Life helped youth practice their money management skills. Individuals were given a set income from which they created a monthly budget that included everything they needed or wanted. These costs included housing and utilities, Internet access, insurance and transportation, and clothing, as well as non-necessity items such as a new television, a pet, and any entertainment costs.


Each youth had to spin the Wheel of Fortune/Doom to see what surprise financial event they had to incorporate in their planning. The results were either beneficial, like a birthday present, which added $10/month, or detrimental, such as having one’s hours cut, which subtracted $250/month. Some of these events could’ve been avoided by purchasing various insurance policies, just like in real life!

After the completing their budget sheet, each youth sat with a credit counselor to discuss how their budgeting went. For individuals who went over budget, they discussed the difference between what they need and what they want, and what motivated them to make their decisions. Then, they returned to the game and adjusted their budgets. Once a participant completed their monthly worksheet without going over budget, they discussed options for utilizing their remaining money to achieve their financial goals.


Many youth reflected that it helped them to think about their money in a different way. One young woman said she didn’t realize how hard it was to live independently and that the Game of Life really opened her eyes to what this entailed. Another participant said he realized his lifestyle would be really affordable if only he didn’t buy fast food and video games as often. These anecdotes are just a few of the success stories from the Game of Life. It was a fun, interactive event that gave youth at Spectrum new ideas about using their money wisely.


Another part of the program was a cooking segment, which I created to teach not only cooking skills and safety, but also for youth to practice creativity and working in teams using cooperation and effective communication.

It was also designed to show the youth they can cook healthy, fresh meals for a lower cost than buying pre-prepared food. The event was set up somewhat like the television show, “Chopped,” in that the participants were given two required ingredients, chicken and a vegetable, as well as a ‘pantry’ of items that contained various food ingredients like pasta, rice, onions, and garlic.

Youth said they had fun during the event and most of them stated they learned something new, especially in The Landing. At one house, youth learned about eating kosher from one of the other residents, and at another house, youth made four different meals so that everyone’s food restrictions (vegetarian, gluten intolerance, and a low-cholesterol diet) were addressed, so all youth could eat together.

Thank you, Emma, for working with our youth over the past year! Congratulations on your upcoming graduation.


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