Poverty simulation offers enlightening experience

Groups listened to the Community Thread “Spend a Day in Their Shoes” poverty simulation leader talk with them about their experience. (Gazette staff photo by Avery Cropp)

An enlightening experience greeted those who participated in Community Thread’s “Spend a Day in Their Shoes” poverty simulation Tuesday.

The experience was a situational game that placed participants in small groups and had them decide how to spend $3,000 a month for a family. About 30 people signed up for the event.

“It’s been enlightening, we have four families and none have come out on the positive side for funds at the end of the month,” said Community Thread Executive Director Valerie Jones.

The four groups went on to talk about issues that had occurred during their month that set them back.

“Our group had to take a payday loan which actually put us in the hole. We got a three-bedroom house and we used extra dollars we had to buy a car. Food cost us $425 and utilities were $150 this month. We spent $125 on clothing and couldn’t get Valerie (the little girl in the simulation) soccer shoes. Day care charged us $1,080 and Alice (the mother in the simulation) had to take a half day off and a day care policy change charged us more money on that end. And we’re still $2,500 in debt because of a car repair,” said Scott Zahren for his group.

“So this month has really impacted your quality of life and made you decide whether or not you’re able to provide your kids with opportunities,” said session mediator Laura.

The stories were similar in the other groups with many reporting they were in debt at the end of the month. It is a sad reality for many families living in poverty.

“Growing up in a very urban area like New York, I see poverty in a completely different world view,” said program director Patrice Bailey. “While some might see it as that’s their misfortune, if you see it all the time you get a certain attachment to that and you want to make the person’s situation better for them. But as we learned here even when we take something back and reduce our costs we still end up in the hole.”

That was exactly the point that Community Thread aimed for with the simulation: to raise awareness and create understanding about what some community members in poverty go through daily. And that was what some attendees, like Suzanne Block, wanted to gain.

“I work with Youth Advantage, and I learned a lot about the complexities that keep these groups in continued poverty and I know that it’s not easy to break those barriers,” Block said.

“What I learned was to be grateful and to appreciate what low-income families deal with on a daily basis,” added Jean Dexheimer.

Decisions groups faced included paying for children’s medical care, not being able to visit a parent before they died, inability to take advantage of educational opportunities for children, not being able to have some form of entertainment during a month, and transportation-related issues.

“I think it’s been a good exercise to understand what people go through and how it does effect your quality of life. It also addressed things that we don’t always understand as middle and upper-class families,” said Arba-Della Beck.

Event participants discussed the different availability of services in rural and urban areas, and at what point living turns into a survival skill for families in poverty.

“I do think we are lucky in our area to have a lot of essential support from foundations and individuals in the community, and that we can do what we can. The opportunities offered here seem to be very different from other states and cities as well,” Beck said.

“Another thing that wasn’t addressed was the generational and situational side of poverty,” said Community Thread Program Coordinator Lauren Hazenson. “Situational poverty exists in our community and the thing with that is that people can get loaned money or know they can move in to a middle-class household of a relative. Generational poverty is more ingrained. People are treated differently in classrooms for the clothes they wear or learning difficulties they may have, and with kindergartners being taught to read, if you’re not able to afford pre-K you’re behind already. After you’ve been in that situation for generation after generation, you start to think that’s just the way it is and if no one tells them that they deserve more they’ll stay there. It’s important to create a change in that way.”