Poverty Simulations

“I started fights in school on purpose, so I would be in too much trouble to go on the field trip. I knew my parents didn’t have the $3 for the field trip and I was too embarrassed.”

“I felt so lonely. I was sitting by myself at work, knowing that my family was depending on that check. But when I got home, my family kept talking about what else had happened that week, and I felt left out. Even in my home, I felt isolated and alone in the world.”

The last week of May, 2017, the United Way of Lamar County was invited to join Paris ISD in their end of the year professional development exercises. In this half-day experience, we conducted a poverty simulation that takes participants through a month in the life of a low-income family. Family groups are assigned roles to play and must work to keep their children safe, families fed, and housing and utilities paid.

With volunteers taking on the roles of case workers, bankers, employers, pawn shop employees and many others, the experience usually begins with nervous laughter and the air of it being a fun game. By the third and four weeks of the simulation though, the participants are panicked and near tears, frustrations reaching new highs as they feel a barraged of emotions tied to the chaos and stress of the situations.

Families are evicted from their homes, utilities are shut off, abandoned and neglected children are removed from their homes, and there are long lines to pay bills, cash checks, and search for employment or social services. Stress. The word pops up at the end of each simulation, being the cornerstone of the experience.

In the Paris ISD, the amount of children living in poverty reaches to 94% in some schools, but has an average of over 70%. The children and their families living day to day through these hardships and these affected students are walking the halls and filling the classrooms of our schools. Through these simulations, teachers and administrators are seeing how they can be a part of the solution to bringing these children’s lives out of the chaos with added attention, empathy and resources, reinforcing the importance of education as a mechanism to break the cycle of generational poverty in our communities.

“Day to day life was overwhelming and stressful. After a while, it was just easier to just sit there and watch the world pass by me. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I knew it would be coming to an end when the whistle was blown, but the families who are living in poverty - it never ends for them.”

Through our work in the community, building a larger and stronger pool of resources and tools for success, we strive to make the lives of Paris and Lamar County residents better each day.

If you are interested in hosting a poverty simulation for your organization or company or are interested in volunteering, please contact Jenny Wilson at jenny.wilson@lamarcountyuw.org or 903-784-6642.