Poverty Simulation Provides a New Perspective

“Excellent simulation!! Seemed so realistic, was heart-wrenching!”  

The first “week” of the October 20 Poverty Simulation at the YWCA McLean County started out relaxed.  Sixty participants assigned to families in “Realville, USA” were given role to play throughout the morning.  A diverse community, some families were headed by a single parent, some had two parents and a grandparent, while others were households of one.  All faced the challenges of lack of resources.

Each family had to pay their bills, buy food, and keep their home secure for four “weeks,” represented by 15 minute periods.   Walkers and canes borrowed from LIFE-CIL added a touch of realism to roles with physical challenges.  Around the room, 30 volunteers staffed community businesses and social service agencies.

At the end of week one, some families realized they had not managed to buy food, and they had to wear stickers which said, “I’m hungry,” a reminder of the impact of food insecurity.  In the second week, there was a greater feeling of urgency in the room. Individuals moved faster as they juggled competing demands and insufficient resources.

By week three, participants were rushing throughout the room, trying to keep up with the bills, work, and family.  Suddenly, clusters of chairs, representing households, were being turned upside down – those who hadn’t paid their rent or mortgage were evicted. The local jail was filling up with truant teens and those accused of other crimes.   By the fourth and final week, many simulation participants were frustrated that no matter what they tried to do, they could not get ahead.

Finally, the simulation was over.  After a short break, the participants convened into four different groups to debrief the situation.  “It brought me back to my growing up years, when my mom was on public assistance,” said one participant. “Except this time, it was very different experiencing it as the adult who had to be responsible for keeping it together”

“I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” said another. “Excellent simulation!! Seemed so realistic, it was heart-wrenching.”

The debrief concluded with a discussion of the systemic nature of poverty, and resources available to help those in poverty, such as the Path Crises resource line (available by dialing 211.)  The Multicultural Leadership Program and YWCA McLean County collaborated to provide this training, thanks to a grant from the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, and the use of a kit owned by the Illinois State University Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.  

The simulation is a part of the annual MCLP curriculum, bringing awareness of socioeconomic diversity. Thanks to the work of all the volunteers and participants, including representatives of Bloomington and Normal city governments, several candidates for local office, and a group of students from YouthBuild, the event was a great success.

Interested in being involved in our next poverty simulation? Email MCLP Executive Director Linda Bollivar at LindaB@bn-mclp.org.

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