The Game of Life gives youth a run for their money

By Ken Luchterhand

“What profession should I pursue? How much will I make? What car should I buy? How will I make ends meet?”
These were just a few of the questions that were going through the minds of the 63 youth attending the Game of Life on Wednesday, June 28, at the Milt Lunda Arena in Black River Falls.
A total of 115 people attended, which includes adults.
The Game of Life was a collaborate effort, according the Ho-Chunk Social Services Program Manager Tena Quackenbush. Other organizers were Dina Hansen and Francesca Bird of First Nations Community Financial. It was the third year for the collaborative effort.
In the beginning of the game, each participant is given a set amount of money. He or she must then visit each of the tables, selecting a professional and buying all the necessities in life, such as housing, food, transportation, insurance and unforeseen obstacles, such as violations of the law.
In the end, youth will experience financial successes and failures.
“At our initial meetings to organize this event, we hashed out a majority of the details, such as location, cost, menu, setup, speakers and layout,” Quackenbush said. “Once we had all the logistics planned out, then we met with all the participants and went over the booths and fine details for the event.”
A few changes were made this year from previous years, including the name, which previously was “The Game of Life meets Financial Frenzy. The name was shortened to “The Game of Life,” since a negative connotation is usually derived from the word, “frenzy.”
They also decided to break the day into two separate sessions. In recent years, the Game of Life was played all day. Last year, they added breakout sessions.
“This year we divided the day in half and played The Game of Life in the morning and five breakout sessions in the afternoon,” Quackenbush said.
The five breakout sessions were: Clan Mothers, Financial Aid, Bullying, Auto Insurance, and Financial Literacy.
This year, there were three speakers: Jon Greendeer, Gerald Fox and Santana Dotson.
Greendeer spoke on “Traditional Values and Cultural Identity in Today’s World.”
“I asked Jon Greendeer to speak to our youth at this important event because he is a spectacular role model for our youth. This is a man who truly walks the talk.”
Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox spoke on “The Effects of Drug Addiction.”
“I know that Gerald is on the very front lines of what’s happening in our community regarding the drug epidemic in Jackson County.  As our county’s district attorney – he sees firsthand the effects of what addiction does to our people,” Quackenbush said.
“A majority of the cases that go through the courts come before Gerald Fox and so he sees the true effects of addiction.  Gerald is another man who speaks humbly from the heart as he has a love for our Ho-Chunk community, our people, our culture and our especially youth, as he acknowledges that our youth are our future. He touched on all aspects of the importance of our youth understanding that they play an important role in our future as a Nation, and understanding the impact that addiction plays in our future as a Tribal Nation,” she said.
Former Green Bay Packer Santana Dotson spoke on bullying.
“He spoke about the importance of being an active, healthy citizen in our community. He intertwined this aspect with the facts about bullying, utilizing questions-and-answers from the youth.  He opened up the dialogue to his own professional career with the Green Bay Packers,” Quackenbush said.
“The kids loved Santana Dotson,” she said. “They asked many questions and hit some great points regarding bullying and his own personal experiences with the situations he went through in his own life as a kid and growing up, then going into his career and how he reached his professional status.  He touched every aspect of bullying and covered bullying on a personal level but also a professional level.  He was very charismatic with the youth and spoke to the youth one on one.  He didn’t sugar coat the effects of what bullying but was very real about what it can do to each of us.”
Overall, the experience was intended to prepare the youth for their futures.
“We hoped that the youth would take away the importance of making positive decisions in life.  Once they graduate from high school and they enter the ‘real world,’ we hope that they make decisions that are good for them and their future.  We want our youth to know that one decision can affect them for the rest of their lives,” Quackenbush said.
“When these youth receive their trust fund monies, we hope that they understand the impact that this money will have on their lives.  Decisions suddenly change and things in their life also change. Life as they know it can change drastically: we want our youth to understand this.  Making positive decisions can make the difference on which paths our youths take. Our journeys in life is based on the choices we make.  Our goals with this event is that our youth understand the importance of our choices in life and that they choose the right choices for them to live long, healthy, prosperous and happy lives.”
Just in real life, not everything goes according to plan. Sometimes disaster strikes and people need to learn how to cope with that, plus rebuild their lives.
“One youth lost all of his money in the beginning of the game,” Quackenbush said.
In addition, the experiences were used as a way to educate the youth on how much necessities really cost.
“When I sat at the grocery table I did a chart on what the USDA says how much it costs to feed a family of four,” Hansen said. “I don’t think kids realize how much it costs to put food on the table.  It was a sticker shock to them.  I explained to them the next time they complain that they don’t get what they want from their parents that they should think about how much it costs to put food on the table.” 
“This event is such an important event for our youth.  I believe that opening up this event to the parents and providing administrative leave was a great change. This allowed the parents to participate with their children.  I wish that more parents would have joined their kids to walk through this with them. It was the first year that we offered to the parents – I think in the next years it will grow in this aspect also,” Quackenbush said. 
“In previous years, we had used the Ho-Chunk Gaming Nekoosa Banquet Hall.  We felt that the venue worked perfectly for the two years that we held it in that location as it was centrally located for all the communities to come together. However, we found that each year we held this event we were growing in attendance,” Quackenbush said.
“So we felt that this location has almost become too small for this important event as we have grown in attendance each year.  We speculated that this year, with the attendance growing – that we needed a bigger space for such an important event.  We knew that we wanted a big space to provide the best event that we could provide for our youth,” she said.
“We added quite a few more table invitations – Food Sovereignty being one that plays such an important role in our youth’s future.  Financial Literacy – another.  Youth Services – another important table that we added.  Therefore, Dina Hansen suggested the arena.  We immediately jumped on such a great venue, as this Milt Lunda Skate Arena is large and provided adequate rooms for the five breakout sessions.  Dina Hansen receives full credit for acquiring use of the Milt Lunda Arena. She arranged for venue to be reserved.  It is a perfect location as a majority of the tables are from Black River Falls.”
Now that the larger venue has been obtained, organizers hope to encourage all of the Ho-Chunk youth centers to participate as this event is such an important event for the youth.  The growth and potential for this event in future years is unlimited now that we have a large venue to host this event, Quackenbush said. 
“Another shout out to Ona Garvin for all the involvement of the Clinic and Health Departments,” Hansen said. “The food was covered and prepared by the dieticians. How cool is that?”