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 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 Champaign county.

How does it work?

  • Requires the involvement of 40-75 participants (40-60 are ideal)
  • 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 Staff
  • The requesting organization will provide a room/location, 13 tables and 50+ chairs necessary to host simulation
  • The requesting organization needs to provide 11-14 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.

Ready to plan a Poverty Sim? Contact Amy Huang to discuss the logistics and set a date. Please keep in mind, we cannot conduct simulations with fewer than 40 participants.