Poverty simulation highlights struggles families face

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By Bryan Marshall

For two hours, Wynita Worley was a 21-year community college student who was suddenly in charge of three younger siblings when her father was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
While the family’s rent and child care was paid, there was no income for utilities and groceries.
Worley and her siblings had to find a way to survive not unlike many other struggling families in Kentucky.
Worley, public services librarian at the Grant County Public Library, was one of about 50 people who participated in a Poverty Simulation held Oct. 11 by the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission at Vineyard Church of Grant County.
“I was surprised how much I did learn from the experience,” she said. “Even though I hear stories from our patrons in the library, this put me in some of their roles.”
The Poverty Simulation, developed by the Missouri Association of Community Action and used nationwide, allows participants to role-play the lives of low-income families and senior citizens, providing for their food, shelter and basic needs during an hour-long “month” in poverty.
The simulation uses play money and fictitious, but realistic scenarios to allow participants to view poverty from a unique perspective.
Volunteers represent bankers, employers, teachers, social service providers, police and business owners of the community.
A packet was handed out providing a description of each family, individuals in the family, sources of income, possessions, bills and other items needed to survive within the month.
Transportation passes were needed to get to work, the bank or pay bills.
Out of the blue, the town’s sheriff might arrest people in the community.
The goal is to keep your home secure, feed the family, keep utilities on, pay for expenses and go to work or go to school.
Unfortunately, some were evicted from their homes by the end of  the month.
“The object of the experience is to sensitize us to the realities of what these families are facing in our community,” said Jennifer Belisle, deputy director of Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission. “It also should inspire us to become involved in ways to address those barriers and problems and improve the community for everyone.”
“The statistics and scenarios are very real and are based on real-life experiences of families in our community,” she said. “Over 50,000 individuals in northern Kentucky’s eight-county region are living below the poverty line. For working families who are above the poverty line but still struggling, we’re talking about a third of our community.”
Rebecca Hampton, co-pastor of Vineyard Church, portrayed a 34-year-old mom whose husband had recently left.
“I had two teenage children, $10 in my pocket and no job,” she said. “I really struggled most with juggling looking for work while also looking for community resources that would aid in food, utilities and rent. There was not enough time to keep it all going so I got evicted and lost my job.”
Worley said  her time also was spread thin traveling to apply for aid and trying to make sure everyone was in school.
“All of us ended up missing school to take care of these issues while dad was in jail,” she said. “In addition, one of the teenagers at home was accused of taking cash from a friend’s mother while there was no supervision at home.”
Worley said her fictitious father made $10.75 per hour when he wasn’t in jail, not nearly enough to support three minors and a college student.
“Even if dad weren’t in jail, where would the family have gotten the money to for an expensive car repair or doctor bill?” she said. “Luckily, my family qualified for emergency food and utility money, but I was ready to hawk the TV and jewelry if I didn’t get it. Also, it made me realize how much Grant County needs public transportation because we were spending what money we had on gas traveling to and from these agencies.”
Hampton said her overall experience during the simulation was great.  
She said it made her want to help out those who need it more than ever.
“The biggest thing I took away was a renewed passion to be a part of the community effort to assist and empower those struggling with poverty and the effects it brings to their lives,” Hampton said.
While many participants represented community agencies or area churches, Worley said she hopes more people from the general public will get a chance to experience the simulation in the future.
“It’s easy to be an armchair critic and think ‘those people just need to get a job’ and an event like this makes you realize how hard it is to have a job, support your kids or get out of a hole when a life emergency happens,” she said. “I think an event like this reminds us all that could be me and gives us knowledge and incentive to push harder to make changes in our community.”