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Poverty simulation shows low income struggles
6 Poverty Simulation pic
Participants in a previous Living in a State of Poverty simulation attempt to negotiate for additional funds or later repayment dates with Carol Tyger and Nicky Gilleland, playing out roles as payday loan sharks. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

Several dozen local leaders and college students found themselves living on minimum wage salaries, wondering how to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck.

An "eye-opener," is how Wayne Watkins, who was assigned the role of a homeless man, described the University of Georgia's "Living in a State of Poverty" simulation held on Thursday at Veterans Memorial Park.

"It takes so much to get a little help when in need," he said.

Sponsored in conjunction with Dawson County Family Connection, the simulation placed participants in scenarios where families must accomplish a variety of tasks, including buying groceries, paying bills and caring for both toddlers and aging parents while surviving on low wages.

As someone in a profession who often receives requests for assistance, Pastor David Jordan said it was illuminating to portray the role of a cashier at the mega-store where the economically disadvantaged participants shopped during the poverty simulation.

"Since my character was demanding payment from the participants in order for them to obtain the food, clothing and medicine necessary for their family's survival, I was afforded the opportunity to see firsthand what it might be like to make the difficult financial decisions necessary for survival in a very difficult situation," he said.

Carol Tyger, who took on the role of a payday loan shark and issued loans on car titles, said she was surprised how quickly clients were out of money each week.

"Some of the teenagers realized that they needed to quit school to help their mom pay bills by getting a job," she said.

According to the 2012 census, 13.7 percent of Dawson County residents live at or below the poverty rate, slightly lower than the state average of 17.4 percent.

Nancy Stites, director of Dawson County Family Connection, said simulated scenarios introduce those not feeling the pinch to how many others live every day.

"I think just about everyone comes into contact with people who are faced with generational poverty," she said. "I think the simulation lets you make better decisions on how you can help them and makes you more sensitive to the predicament they're in."

Having that knowledge and insight to the hardships neighbors are facing "also gives people more respect for who it is that needs help."