46.9 million Americans live in poverty every day. Many more have incomes above the poverty line, but their incomes are still low enough to qualify for programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid. The recent economic downturn has seen unemployment rates rise and the use of emergency food pantries increase.
On Thursday, May 31st, a powerful activity took place at Kaynor Technical High School to help students and staff truly understand the situations that families living in poverty experience every day – the decisions they have to make, and the fears and frustrations they feel.. Over 80 participants participated in The Community Action Poverty Simulation sponsored by the Waterbury PeaceJammers.
This learning tool has been created as a way to help people understand the realities of poverty. During the simulation, participants role-play the lives of low-income families. Some are Welfare recipients, some are disabled, and some are senior citizens on Social Security. They have the stressful task of providing for basic necessities and shelter on a limited budget during the course of four 15-minute “weeks.” They interact with human service agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers and others.
Although play money is used, the Poverty Simulation is not a game. This activity enables participants to look at poverty from a variety of angles and then to recognize and discuss the potential for change within their local communities. The simulation was designed to sensitize those who frequently deal with low-income families, as well as to create a broader awareness of the realities of poverty among policymakers, community leaders and others.
The event was a huge success as participants shared their experience from the simulation and related them to real life. Group discussions encouraged the young participants to continue their education to help avoid the struggles faced by those living on low-incomes. It really was an eye opening experience for many and such a rewarding endeavor for the young enthusiastic group that organized the event. The Poverty Simulation was a great opportunity for our young students to show that they are willing to make a positive contribution to their community.
Patricia Ciccone, Superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School System, was in attendance and participated in the activity. "I continue to be amazed at the level of commitment Kaynor students and staff impart to one another in pursuit of their peaceful school. The Poverty Simulation was an impressive effort on the part of everyone who took part to improve their school, their relationships with one another; all in pursuit of something bigger than themselves, and that resulted in an awesome learning experience. It was impossible to participate and not come away with a new understanding of the plight of others and what we might all do to address poverty and homelessness."
Here are some reflections by the students who participated in the Poverty Simulation:
“I couldn't believe my family got evicted! We were trying our very best and it just wasn't good enough”
“At one point during the simulation I really wanted to cry. I finally got to the front of the line to cash my check and the bank closed! They said I had to come back tomorrow. I needed the money to take care of my family. I didn’t know what to do!”
“I felt the experience reflected real life. I just didn’t realize how much went into caring for a family. I am not ready for that responsibility!”
“I really liked sitting down and sharing our experiences at the end of the simulation. Everyone was very open about their feelings. Many felt like me . . . it was sad feeling . . . I feel so sorry for people living in poverty. Now I want to help”\
The event was coordinated by Kaynor Tech instructor Kathryn Patrick.