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Poverty simulation an enlightening experience emerging leaders

The gathering space at the Jackson Energy Authority training center was full of people on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 27.

There wasn’t one person or group presenting to the rest of the room.

In fact, it was almost as if nearly everyone in the room – more than 100 people – were part of the same production.

Members of the current Leadership Jackson class and the current group of teachers going through West Teach, a leadership program for educators, were going through a poverty simulation.

And there were a number of community leaders who were helping them through that process.

“A poverty simulation is an eye-opening experience for almost everyone who goes through it because it puts those going through it most of the time in situations they’ve never experienced,” said Shelby Matthis, who was facilitating this poverty simulation.

The members of West Teach and Leadership Jackson were placed into family groups. Each family was assigned a socio-economic situation based on the jobs the adults had and the monthly income those jobs would receive.

The children in the home were assigned certain circumstances – in public school or private school or college. Some had their own jobs. Others didn’t. Volunteers from around the community were set up around the room with tables as their stations within town.

There was a supermarket, utilities, school, banks and other vendors that supply possible needs of a family like childcare for toddlers, healthcare providers, payday loan centers, landlords to pay rent to and more.

There were also other parts of American culture than can affect a family as well like police officers and drug dealers.

With the families assigned and the stations of town set up around the room, the families had to navigate through four weeks of life, dealing with trying to handle getting the family fed and housed on whatever pay they’re given while also maintaining bills being paid and children taken care of.

Some families had their own transportation, while others didn’t. Those who didn’t had to figure out public transportation while also having to budget for that drain on the income.

The families were given a certain amount of time to get through Week 1, and Matthis would let everyone know when the week is over and it’s time for all families to get back to their home if they had that ability.

Some didn’t if they’d made poor choices and they’d been placed in jail or something else had happened that kept them from getting home.

That process repeated itself three more times to get through four weeks.

Most families made it through Week 1 OK, but by Week 2 or Week 3, money was getting tight for many families. By the time some got to Week 4, they had no idea how they would make it through the end of the month if this were real life.

Once four weeks were complete, Matthis facilitated a conversation among the entire group about observations from those having gone through it once and from the people who were at the various stations.

Many said their eyes had been opened that morning to how well their own parents had managed things while they were children.

For a few others who were willing to admit they had preconceived notions about a lot of people who struggle in poverty, they said their eyes were opened to the fact that a lot of people aren’t poor because they’re lazy or make bad choices. But instead they might’ve had a run of bad luck that affected them negatively, and they’ve struggled to dig out of the whole since then.

Some even admitted that in the simulation, they broke their own moral code upon occasion just to make it to the next week or to get their children fed.

“I could see now how maybe someone who is a drug dealer didn’t wake up one day and said this is something they wanted to do,” said one person who went through the process. “But maybe doing that was a choice they made for the good of their family.”

A number of heads nodded in agreement with the statement.

“The point of this exercise is to show people going through a program like Leadership Jackson that people in poverty may be the problem that we see on the surface for a family or on a larger scale for an area,” Matthis said. “And while we want to address the poverty itself, there may be more basic things that caused that poverty that are what actually need addressing.

“I’ve never been a part of this where there wasn’t at least someone – if not almost everyone – who had been enlightened about how others have found themselves in tough circumstances and it takes more than simply working hard to get out of that situation. And hopefully that creates more empathy for others.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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