Poverty simulation teaches empathy | NevadaAppeal.com

Poverty simulation teaches empathy

Teri Vance

Carson City’s residents and leaders got a glimpse into the life of the working poor Saturday as part of a Circles Initiative activity at Western Nevada College.

About 30 participants were divided into families or single people, based on true cases out of Missouri, living in poverty. Each family was handed a scenario and a list of bills they had to pay each week. Weeks were divided into 20-minute segments.

Some worked, others were unemployed or couldn’t work due to disabilities.

Service agencies and other businesses were spread throughout the room, often run by members of Capital City Circles, which is aimed at breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

The program, run through Health and Human Services, examines the underlying reasons behind poverty and helps people address them.

Throughout the course of the simulated week, most families lost their homes, having to live at the homeless shelter, and many more had their children taken by the family-service agency.

Candy Colbert, who has been working in the Circles program for three months, has been clean from drugs for a year and is working full time with three children while still struggling to make ends meet.

She said the activity was an accurate look into the life of the working poor.

“It was a good role play,” she said. “It brought back memories.

The most unrealistic part, she said, was the ease at which people got their children back.

“In the real world, you don’t get them back as quick as you did today,” she said. “Been there, done that. It took almost a year. Today was hard, but in the real world it’s so much harder.”

As participants struggled to find the money to pay bills and became frustrated with the hassles of bureaucracy, Haylie Hume played the role of a drug dealer. She approached people, offering them a way to get money fast by selling drugs for her.

“I was surprised how easily people were convinced,” she said.

Dina Phippen, Circles coordinator, said the activity was aimed to teach empathy for the working poor.

“It’s really about education,” she said. “The real goal is to make people aware of what the working poor have to go through, and how challenging it can be to navigate the system. It gives us the opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of these families in Carson City.”

Father Jeff Paul from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church played the role of a child in a family struggling to get by.

“It really got me in touch with the challenge families face in not only providing for the kids, but it time as well,” he said. “How do you give time to your children when you’re dealing with this? You can’t.”

People running the agencies and business were at times hard to work with. The woman running the transportation and check-cashing office only spoke Spanish, creating confusion as to how much to pay and what the services were.

Others didn’t hand out receipts, then charged again for the same service.

“It’s funny because it’s not real, but I was getting angry,” said Bob White, a captain with the Carson City Sheriff’s Department. “Imagine what the people who are living it feel.”

Phippen said she hoped participants would see the struggles of the impoverished and want to get involved as mentors in the Circles program to help families become self-sustaining.

She called the 14 families working out of poverty through the Circles program, “the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. They’re wealthy in character, motivation and integrity.”