There were more than fifty participants, the second largest of Community Action Partnership’s poverty simulations.
“We try to do at least four [poverty simulations] a year,” said Kaitlan Marsden, part of the Community outreach team. “This will be our first this year.”
The one-hour simulation represented one month, 15 minutes being one week. Participants would then break up into groups to explain how each person felt and how well the goal was accomplished. It ended with pizza, but not before the group returned to its original size, to discuss the reality of poverty.
“We [had] an ambitious goal, to understand poverty better,” Marsden said. “To open up people’s minds to what someone in living in poverty might be feeling on a daily basis. It’s really to create empathy.”
Upon arrival, each participant was required to grab a random nametag of the character they would play for the duration of the simulation.
The nametags corresponded with a specific number on a chair. The chairs were grouped randomly in threes, fours, or fives. Each chaired group was one family. Every family was different, with different problems, stories and stressors.
Along with families, there were different services provided: jail, social services, a public school, interfaith, homeless shelter, pawnshop, mortgage and realty, “quick” cash, a bank, a grocery store and a police department.
The families were then given a certain amount of “vouchers” for food and transportation. The vouchers were the only way the participants could use transportation to each service and how much food they were allowed to have. How much was given depended on the severity of their poverty. Some weren’t given any. It was possible to obtain more then what is given, but for some, this proved to be nearly impossible.
“I tried to get all the services I needed, but I never had enough time, money or transportation,” said Jennifer Macnaught, participant. She played a mother of two who was abandoned by their father. “I needed to prioritize […] time, money, and my kids, but it was hard because my kids always had behavioral problems. They were constantly in ‘Juvi.'”
Not only did children have behavioral problems, but adults as well. Just within the first two weeks, there were adults who repeatedly went into the simulation’s jail.
“I would like to think I would never be like this,” said Chance Peterson, participant. In this simulation he played an unemployed father. “This was a tremendous responsibility, but overall, I thought this was great. I would participate again.”
At the end, volunteering was stressed by Community Action Partnership.
“Even the simplest things help,” Marsden said.
According to Community Action Partnership, Utah’s unemployment rate has increased 57.6 percent over the past year.
“The experience opened my eyes,” said Carley Mayo, participant. She played as a child in the simulation. “Especially how much kids can be neglected. At ‘school’ I earned a reward, but my ‘parents’ were always concerned with other things to really care or notice.”
According to Community Action Partnership, in Utah County are 11.8 percent of families with children live in poverty.