Earlier this week, Sarah (Steinbruck Center Director), led our group and a youth group from North Carolina in a poverty simulation exercise. Our groups were mixed for this; youth and adults were equal participants. We were divided into “families” of different sizes and ages. Each family was given descriptions of their assets and challenges, like jobs, homes, cars, need for childcare, illness, marital problems, etc. We then lived through four “weeks” of 15 minutes each. The goal was to pay all bills on time and be prepared to pay next month’s rent at the end of the month.

If folks had a job, they spent 7 minutes (full time) or 4 minutes (part time) at Bob’s workplace each week.

Pastor Lisa collected payment for utilities, mortgage, or rent. She also evicted families from their homes and shut off utilities if their bills weren’t paid.

Marcus ran a pawn shop. He was very particular about which items he was willing to buy!

Jack and a friend from the NC group worked for Social Services. They were able to give out vouchers, food stamps, etc.

The room rang with shouts from one family member to another:

“Did you pay for food?”

“We need to pick up the baby from childcare!”

There were lines to see bankers, problems with transportation, and agencies that closed before seeing everyone. The kids agreed that this was very stressful. One declared she was never going to leave her parents’ home! Many families were short of funds at the end of the month. Some were evicted from their homes.

Nick was the banker. He also sold many transportation passes. Each agency worker had to collect a transportation pass before they could provide any services.

Jen was the childcare provider and was often forced to make hard choices and deliver bad news to families. She also had to call parents out of work when their child became sick.

The family I belonged to needed to stop at the local food shelf so we had enough to eat for the month.

The exercise has great impact in helping people understand why it’s so expensive to be poor. The kids tell us the combination of service, learning, and advocacy has made this a great mission trip.

Thanks for supporting these experiences for our youth (and adults!).

Sue Jenkins

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