Publish Date: 11/19/2008
November 19, 2008
MANSFIELD, PA— As American’s prepare for Thanksgiving and all its traditional trappings, members of the Mansfield University campus community recently found out what it is like for those who do not have what so many take for granted.
More than 75 MU students, faculty and staff, along with community agency personnel, took part in the Missouri Community Action Poverty Simulation on November 13.
Organized by Assistant Professor of Social Work Rhonda Keller as part of her sabbatical activities, the simulation assigned participants to a “family.” Family participants then had to complete daily tasks, but with the lack of resources that many poverty stricken families contend with every day.
"The event was a huge success as a learning tool and especially timely with the current economic challenges that many families face," Keller said. “Students seemed very engaged in the simulation. Participants found by first-hand experience how hard it is to survive as a family with very limited economic resources. In fact, some found they couldn't make it. Children were neglected and parents were frustrated, stressed, or exhausted attempting to do everything required to survive the simulated month in poverty. Some even resorted to illegal activity.”
Participants completed anonymous surveys after the simulation and many contained comments such as “a real eye opener” and "it gave me a real understanding” of what people who live in poverty go through.
Some students noted that they had experienced poverty themselves and suggested that the simulation should be undertaken on campus each year to foster better understanding of the challenges faced by families who live in poverty.
One commented that the simulation “should be mandatory for state and federal legislators. In fact, for anyone who makes policy affecting poverty.”
Keller, who heads the Poverty Work Group for the Tioga County Health Partnership, expressed her appreciation for community agency staff that assisted, making the simulation more realistic regarding the barriers and stress that low income family’s face.
In the discussion that followed the exercise, students who played the roles of children noted how they felt neglected because their parents were working so hard to succeed that they didn't have time to attend their children's needs. In the role plays associated with the simulation, unsupervised children sometimes got into trouble without proper parental guidance. However, some families helped each other out.
“Like in real life, families didn't always know where to get needed resources to help them cope,” Keller said. “They were met by some kind and helpful community resource staff but taken advantage of by others - such as an especially unscrupulous check cashing and pay-day loan company. Some students playing the roles of community resource staff reported being dismayed at discovering that they were capable of being insensitive and unnecessarily punitive with ‘client families,’ and that they often assumed negative stereotypes, and didn't always take seriously a struggling family's story.”
The simulation was sponsored by the Tioga County Partnership for Community Health's Poverty Work Group and the Mansfield University Social Work, Anthropology, and Sociology Department.
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