Simulation helps put poverty in perspective
By ANGIE HAFLICH
People who live at or below the poverty level experience frustrations beyond that of not having enough money.
Tuesday night, people from the community had the opportunity firsthand to learn about the obstacles faced by low-income families. Circles of Hope held the Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) at First United Methodist Church. The event allowed people to experience a simulated month in the life of a family in poverty.
During the simulation, people were split up into families of varying sizes, with varying incomes and expenses.
There were also simulated resource centers, such as a bank, police department, jail, adult and juvenile court, adult and juvenile parole and probation, a health clinic and a school. Some families had cars, while others had to obtain bus passes.
Jane Krug, who volunteered to play the part of the bank and loan officer, said that she also experienced what it was like to play the part of a family in poverty.
"It's very enlightening. Just so many decisions, just constant decisions," she said, describing what she learned from her experience.
On Tuesday, Krug's role involved taking simulated loan applications and either approving or denying them, based on the participants' credit, which were yes or no boxes for the purposes of the simulation.
"I just have a yes or no, but they have to fill out the whole form without knowing if they passed or not, which is reality," she said. "Yet at the same time, they're using up some of their time filling it out."
In the mean time, Lona DuVall played the role of a probation officer.
"A whole lot of people need to start showing up for their probation meetings," she said. "And I also have to watch for child abuse."
Some of the simulated families, whose scenario involved babies, carried dolls around with them to their various stops, such as the simulated county human services, where they could obtain food stamps.
"The Cost of Poverty Experience is a glimpse into the life of those living below the poverty line every day in our community. It is a glimpse into the obstacles that are faced, the decisions that are made and the consequences that impact these families everyday," Circles of Hope Coordinator Missy Allen told participants. "Today, we are asking you to suspend your reality. Imagine for the next two hours that you are actually the person whose role you will take on during this simulation. We ask that you not think of this as an exercise or a game, but that you think of this as a current reality — life as you have always known it. If you have been assigned the role of an out-of-work adult, think and act as if you have no job. If you are an ex-offender, try to think and act as if you have the reality of prison. If you are a teenager, look at your world through their eyes. The more you put into this experience, the more your understanding will increase."
Allen said that the simulation is designed to educate the community about poverty.
"And so this, tonight, is one tool we use for the education part, and it also helps us recruit people to be allies," Allen said.
Allies are volunteers who offer to help families by providing food, child care or anything else the family might need.
"The way that Circles works is people living in low-income are accepted into the program through an application process, and the application really just talks about their income, also what resources they're lacking — whether it be financial or spiritual or relationships, maybe it's an education — so they recognize areas they would like help in," Allen said, adding that these families start with a 12-week class, in which they are taught such things as budgeting and goal-setting.
"When they're done with the 12-week class, they (can) move onto the 18-month process, where they are matched with four to five allies, and those are the people in the community who intentionally befriend them and will walk with them during those 18 months to help them with the goals they have chosen," Allen said, adding that the goals can be anything from higher education, purchasing a home or paying off debt.
She said that 67 percent of kids in Finney County receive free or reduced lunches.
"So within Garden City, I would say we have a very high percentage of people, especially children 18 and under, living in a home of low income," she said.
The current Circles of Hope 12-week class began in October and runs through January.
"Right now, we have 11 individuals, who represent nine families, that are taking that class," Allen said, adding that the next 12-week class will begin some time in January.
For more information about Circles of Hope or to volunteer as an ally, call Allen at 275-9171 or 271-4964.