Each year United Way of Champaign County hosts a Poverty Simulation for the members of our Emerging Community Leaders (ECL) class. Comprised of young professionals, this group has joined ECL seeking to learn about the local community and to volunteer their time.
The simulation is designed to demonstrate one month in the life of a person living in poverty. It's reinforced to all in the room that this is no game: Poverty is REAL. Participants are assigned to a "family", and their goal is to use the resources provided to them to make it through the month. From newly or chronically unemployed, to single-parent homes, retirees and immigrant families, all walks of life are represented because no family in poverty is "typical". Volunteers act as vendors, representing community resources such as food pantries, churches, the bank, schools, the pawn shop, and more.
At the end of the simulated month, the groups spoke about their experiences: "Now I understand the cycle of poverty - just when I thought my 'family' had made it, unexpected setbacks caused us to fall further behind on bills. After going through this experience, I want to work hard to help people who face these types of situations"
"The first thing I did was make a budget.When I figured out we would need double what we were making in income just to meet our most basic needs of food and shelter, I was so disheartened. Now I truly understand the importance of assistance programs for families like the one I was assigned to"
"United Way says we need to LIVE UNITED, and it's so true: we are all interconnected. The simulation showed me that just one caring person CAN make a difference to a struggling family. My group had no money for groceries, and the vendor acting as our landlord gave us $30 off our rent so we could buy basics for the month. That small kindness made a world of a difference."
The Poverty Simulation is offered by UWCC to interested community groups, government organizations, and businesses at no cost. To request a poverty simulation, call Beverley Baker at 217-352-5151.