“It was very overwhelming.”
“We just needed a hand up.”
“You had to make decisions about what you can do without.”
“You couldn’t have any errors on any level just to break even.”
“I was so happy when it was over.”
These were some of the words spoken by Dawson County community members and business leaders following Family Connection’s Nov. 15 “Poverty Simulation” event.
During the simulation, participants were assigned personas and backstories and challenged to live for a “month” in their characters’ shoes. Each character was given an income, bills and challenges to overcome, mirroring the lives of those who are living in poverty.
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The exercise was divided up into four 15-minute “weeks”, during which each participant went to “work”, “school”, and visited several stations set up to mirror needed resources, including the bank, grocery store, social services, medical clinic, mortgage company and more. With the set income each participant was given, they were asked to figure out how to make ends meet and pay their bills for each week, which often exceeded the amount of money they had coming in.
If you or someone you know is in need of help or resources, reach out to Dawson County Family Connection at 706-265-1981 or go to https://dawson.gafcp.org/
Jessie Moore, a family consumer sciences agent with the University of Georgia Extension office, facilitates poverty simulation programs throughout the area. She said that the goal of the exercise is not only for participants to test whether they can survive in poverty, but also to raise their awareness and empathy for those who are living in poverty for real.
“They have to go through, pay bills, get food, make sure their kids go to school, go to work, so they’ve got a lot of things that they have to do to survive that month,” Moore said.
Following the simulation, participants debriefed about their experiences in the exercise, expressing their surprise and frustration at how difficult making ends meet, even in a pretend world, proved to be.
“From an educator’s perspective, I recognized how anxious and frustrated parents get under very stressful situations and how they’re going home and trying to take care of family in that situation, so that has a lasting effect on students that come to us and that we see everyday,” one participant said.
“I had to make the decision between buying medicine or feeding my children,” another participant said.
Several of the volunteers who ran the stations also shared their thoughts, saying that having to turn people away or being unable to help, even in a simulation, also proved to be more difficult than they thought.
“You and I think about ‘we’re gonna have Thanksgiving and Christmas’ and ‘I’m gonna go to school and graduate’ and ‘we’re gonna retire when we’re 65’… those people that you’re acting like don’t think past that first day and they don’t know how to get to that next place — and you were ready to quit after a month,” one volunteer said.
Rebecca Bliss, coordinator for Dawson County Family Connection, said that, as someone who works with families and individuals in need every day, she’s seen firsthand the difficult decisions that people have to make in order to survive, like choosing whether to take their child to school or take a sick family member to the hospital.
“You start making decisions that you normally wouldn’t,” Bliss said to the group during the debriefing. “All of your observations warm my heart because I think you truly got what you were supposed to get out of this and the empathy for this situation.”
Moore closed the debriefing by reminding participants to use their frustration and the other feelings they felt during the exercise as a springboard to help make a difference for people who are really living lives similar to the characters in the simulation.
“There are folks out there that you will encounter, probably as you walk out the door, that are dealing with a lot of these same situations and can’t escape it after an hour or an hour and a half,” Moore said. “I hope that you take any of those frustrations that you have; that can be great fuel for projects in the community and projects you want to work on as a group or as an individual to help.”