Students were assigned fictional roles with new families in a variety of scenarios. Students role-played situations ranging from elderly grandparents taking care of their grandchildren, to a single father, abandoned by his wife and taking care of three young children. The simulation covered 4 weeks of life within the time span of an hour, with one week equaling 15 minutes of "real world" time.
Parents were responsible for getting their children to school on time, finding or maintaining employment, paying bills, feeding their families, and making sure "children" had adult supervision at all times. Mount Mercy faculty, staff and alumni, as well as community volunteers, participated in the exercise and represented various agencies and organizations, including law enforcement, community action agencies, utilities companies and general employer.
"I hope students leave with a greater understanding of the challenges associated with poverty, and that it's not just a lack of funding – it's so much more –and it's only as a community that we can support one another," said Coordinator of Leadership Programs Mindy Chrisman, who orchestrated the event for social work majors and juniors in Mount Mercy's STEPS leadership program.
Executive Director for Mercy Mission and Identity Sister Shari Sutherland played the role of a staff member in a community action agency. Her character helped students with education, utilities, transportation, and emergency situations.
"The students were able to find out how complicated life can get very easily, and once you get into something that doesn't work right, it just snowballs," Sr. Shari said.
As a social work major, senior Angel Loutsch felt participating in the exercise helped prepare her for a career in the field.
"It's something [poverty] you see all the time, but it's different experiencing even just a little of it," Loutsch said.
Just like in real life, students were thrown curve balls. The scenario included a broken a water main at the school, forcing parents to pick their children up or find daycare before they could resume their daily responsibilities. Other challenges included stolen cars, lost jobs, and for one family, eviction. Many times students had to choose between paying for food or paying their medical prescriptions.
"It really makes you think of all the things people go through on a daily basis," junior social work major Kyann Pillard said.
Kaitlin Gudenkauf, a junior elementary education major assigned to play a three-year-old in a single-parent household, experienced abandonment and her family's eviction from their home, and felt helpless as she watched her family struggle to make ends meet.
"Being in college and studying elementary education, I can really connect with those people who experience this in real life, and it's just a whole new level for me. I learned from this as an individual and as a future professional," Gudenkauf said.
Students who participated in the poverty simulation included:
To see more photos of the Poverty Simulation, visit Mount Mercy's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mountmercyuniversity.
View video footage of the experience by clicking here.