The Poverty Simulation

What is the purpose?

This poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants understand what it might be like to be a part of a typical low-income family in Champaign County, Illinois trying to survive from month-to-month.  The object is to sensitize participants to the realities of life faced by low-income people in our community. The amounts and figures used in the simulation reflect actual average amounts in Illinois.

How does it work?

  • Requires the involvement of 40-75 participants (40-60 are ideal)
  • We are only able conduct simulations within Champaign County, Illinois.
  • United Way Staff will facilitate the simulation (2-3 staff members)
  • Participants assume the role of 26 different families living in poverty
  • The event takes approximately two hours – the simulation lasts one hour plus time for the introduction and debriefing
  • “Families” must provide basic necessities and shelter for one “month” consisting of four, fifteen-minute “weeks”
  • It’s a simulation, not a game

Beginning the planning process:

  • A coordinator or committee should be formed by the organization requesting the simulation to plan logistics with United Way of Champaign County
  • The requesting organization will provide a room/location, 13 tables and 50+ chairs necessary to host simulation
  • The requesting organization needs to provide 11-15 volunteers (it is helpful to recruit people who have experience in varying social service/business roles. Ex: banker, teacher, healthcare and social work)
  • Volunteers need to come 30 minutes before the simulation to receive information about their role in the simulation


  • Debrief discussion to allow participants to share thoughts
  • Increase awareness of challenges that families with limited resources and low income face daily
  • Encourages people to Give. Advocate. Volunteer.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We are only able to host Poverty Simulations within Champaign County, Illinois, and we do not sell our simulation materials to other communities. Simulations require at minimum 40 participants and 15 volunteers.

If you meet these requirements, please contact Amy Huang to discuss the logistics and set a date.