Poverty is a devastating reality for many families and individuals. Unless you’ve been a victim of poverty, it is impossible to truly understand. In order to bridge the gap of misinterpretation to awareness, the Office of Community Engagement at BVU held Poverty Simulations to ensure the next best thing to understanding realities of poverty.
“The poverty simulation is an opportunity for our students to participate in what it would be like to live a month in poverty as a family role and it’s meant to really sensitize them to those experiences that people who live in poverty face every day,” Tawney Schrier, AmeriCorps Community Engagement Coordinator and Event Organizer said.
Schrier coordinated a group of about 90 volunteers composed of senior Social Work majors, Student M.O.V.E. members, and EFS Scholars to prepare and carry out three simulations on Oct. 29. Senior Social Workers helped rebuild kits for the sessions, set up for the event, and write community profiles to create the most authentic experience for participants.
Each poverty simulation session lasted about one hour, designed to imitate one month of real-world poverty. Participants had the challenge of surviving on limited resources provided, emulating financial hardships victims of poverty face every single day. Each session had the goal of giving realistic, perceptible context to living a life in poverty.
For each session, twenty-six family member folders with designated certain resources were gathered and utilized throughout the four week simulation. Transportation passes, social security cards, and if they’re lucky enough, household items are provided to start the participant off. Community organization folders are also provided with specific instructions on how they’re to interact with family members.
Their decisions depend on the tools they find at their fingertips. Whether trying to sell something at the pawn shop for some extra cash, or paying their rent to be able to afford a home, students experience the difficulty families in poverty deal with on a day-to-day basis.
“I feel like when we talk about the subject of poverty it’s this really big, broad, in depth thing, but when you put it in terms of a simulation and something they can interact with they start to grasp what that’s like,” Schrier added.
The original idea for the simulation came from the Missouri Community Action Agency, a non-profit specifically with the aim to alleviate and empower families in poverty and low-power situations in the United States.. Their simulation kit was purchased by the Office of Community Engagement so BVU could hold these as often as desired.
According to Schrier, the Poverty Simulation event has been well attended in its past occurrences. Education and social work majors often attend, as most are required as a part of their training. This year, it was pushed immensely through freshman seminars. This year was a bit different from past poverty simulations, where only one was held. Instead of one, there were three in one day.
According to organizers, students visibly showed anger through the course of each poverty experience. As stated by Schrier, this achieves the event’s desired effect.
“A lot of students will get upset at what’s happening to them during the simulation, but that’s real life for a lot of people,” she added.
Through required involvement of Social Work and Education majors especially, Ashley Farmer-Hanson, Director of Community Engagement, adds there have been reflections which prove the experience has much to offer. One participant from this simulation evaluated the event by saying it gave her a different perspective of what her future students and families may be going through and how she can be a useful resource in helping them.
This automatic connection to future careers and what our future social workers and educators can do to combat poverty in their own communities makes participation in this event worthwhile. Senior Social Work major Emily VanDonselaar, volunteer in the last session, reveals some additional insight.
“I think it’s a really good eye opener for a lot of people who come to college to sit here and try to figure out what this kind of thing is about because they’re going to meet people eventually in their life who have these exact same experiences,” she said.
Keep an eye out for future events held by the Office of Community Engagement at BVU. As this simulation offers an opportunity to place social work, education, and other majors in poverty’s shoes, future events will have the same type of opportunities to create the best preparation for you in your major’s future career.