Poverty simulation added as interest grows

During poverty simulations, if students are unable to provide food for their children, they can be taken away by social services. The event simulates the stresses of living in poverty. — Submitted photo

Wartburg’s poverty simulation is now offered four times a year due to growing interest and more classes requiring their students to participate.

Typically, the simulation is offered once in the fall, once during winter term on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and once during May Term. A fourth simulation was added this fall due to Jennifer McBride’s Christian ethics course now being offered in the fall.

“Interest is growing because people understand the value of the experience,” Renee Sedlacek, service-learning coordinator, said. “It’s amazing what students will take away from three hours.”

The poverty simulation has been offered at Wartburg since 2005. Wartburg conducts their own with a kit purchased from the Missouri Association for Community Action.

The simulation itself places participants into the lives of low-income families, such as single parents trying to care for their children. Each family must provide food, shelter and other basic necessities while interacting with various community resources staffed by volunteers. Each simulation is followed by a time of reflection and conversation.

“Professors know it’s a good experience for their students to participate in,” Courtney Harksen, social work major and volunteer, said. “I feel like students hear about it and only think about how it’s three hours out of their day they could be doing something else, but when they have done it, they find it meant something.”

“It allowed me to understand how hard it really is to get out of poverty and it made me more conscious of how I am or could help people who are in poverty,” first-time participant Carley Wernimont said. “I took away more of a realistic sense of what struggles and experiences people living in poverty face.”

Wernimont found she also realized what she has to face in the future.

“Since I am a college student, I haven’t experienced what it is like to pay mortgages, health insurance, etc. Through this simulation, I learned how hard it is to stay afloat and balanced while still paying for the necessities. Now I feel more empowered to truly help the poor and take more action, rather than to just feel bad.”

Sedlacek said the ultimate purpose of the simulation is to cause participants to learn about themselves and what’s happening to the people around them.

“Poverty’s increased within the U.S. due to the economic downturn and housing recession, and is becoming a very real issue for more and more families every year,” Sedlacek said. “If we’re not tuned in to that and what our responsibility can be, we’re missing a huge boat.”

Each time the simulation is done, a minimum of 50 students and 26 volunteers are needed. Classes that participate are human relations, understanding poverty, human behavior, and Christian ethics.

The next poverty simulation will be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21 followed by a May 10 simulation.

“The number one thing we can do is educate ourselves and dispel the stereotypes,” Sedlacek said. “I personally believe we’re all connected.”

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