A Poverty Simulation is a facilitated two-hour immersive experience designed to create awareness among participants of life at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Participants are assigned to “families” who do their best to survive week-to-week over a simulated one-month period. The simulation presents participants with real-life scenarios and challenges faced by people living in poverty. The exercise is immediately followed by a group debrief, during which participants reflect on the experience, discuss insights, and consider next steps.
Since 2008, Crisis Assistance Ministry has been the local lead facilitator of Poverty Simulations, using a nationally-recognized curriculum created by the Missouri Community Action Network. In the last four years alone, nearly 7,000 local citizens, including community leaders, business professionals, and members of faith communities, have experienced a simulation sponsored by our agency. They often leave shaken by the role play, telling us they will never forget the overwhelming stress and hopelessness they felt as they walked in the shoes of someone facing poverty.
The ultimate goal of the Poverty Simulation is to transform these insights into action. Executives have changed policies at their place of work and teachers have pledged to change how they treat children at school as a result of their participation.
"Finding out I was a 9-year-old who had adult responsibilities was sobering and impactful."
"It's an eye-opener to the struggles and day-to-day challenges faced by people living in poverty."
"The whole thing was done so well. It was moving, emotional, accurate and so educational."
"The physicality of the event made it better than the typical table-top exercise. We felt real emotions trying to make our lives work."
"It showed that anyone can end up in a situation of poverty. You never know what life will throw at you and this exercise did a great job of showing that."
"The people in my group were all diverse and it allowed me to see that economic status and life situations level the playing field. We are certainly more alike than different."
"It was chaotic, which seems to be a real-life feeling for people who are in this situation."
"It really showed how one bad event snowballs for families that are struggling. It was very emotional."
"Going through this experience helped me to physically experience the panic, confusion, and dejectedness of tough, unwinnable choices… this goes a long way towards building a sense of empathy vs. sympathy."
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