This past week I had the opportunity to volunteer for my first Poverty Simulation here in Forsyth County. I was at one of the schools in the county and it was students that were participating.
I have done several of these simulations and am always fascinated to watch the participants wrestle with the experience.
What is a poverty simulation you may be wondering? It’s an experience created to role play what it is like to live a month in the shoes of a person living in poverty. The participants are given an economic scenario and life circumstances (age, children, health issues, job or no job, income and monthly expenses). Volunteers help run the businesses and services that they will interact with to practice taking care of themselves and their families. There is a bank, pawn shop, quick cash, school, employer, police officer, thief, utilities, landlord, social services, faith based crisis center, and this time I ran the Super Center grocery store.
After the simulation is over the group processes what they experienced. This is usually interesting to hear how they wrestled with the choices they had to make. When you only have means for transportation to one place and you need to pay your rent, buy groceries, and go to work- what do you choose to do? Watching the students look at their money and figure out they have enough money to buy their week’s worth of groceries but no money to buy clothes or anything else was interesting. Especially considering how much attention our youth pay to what they wear and what the latest trends are. The bottom line is, it’s not easy.
For many of us that do not have to figure out how we are going to get to work today, or decide whether we will buy our groceries or fill our prescriptions this week, this gives a small insight into the differences between wrestling with problems of poverty vs wrestling with other life issues. We all wrestle with problems and issues – but poverty issues are of a different nature.
I have been surprised at how much poverty is in Forsyth County. It is an interesting place where there are highly resourced persons and then a few miles away, people living below the poverty level. In 2011 a family of three with a household income below $18,530 defined living below the poverty level. 71% of the households in the city of Winston Salem live below the poverty line. The percentage of children living in poverty in Forsyth County according to the 2013 US Census is 30.4% or 25,757 children. The current number of children in WS/FC schools receiving free or reduced lunch is approximately 27,000.
I don’t have any answers to solve the problem of poverty in this county or any other. But I do recognize the need for communities to work together on lifting one another up. As I learn more and more about the issue of poverty and figure out ways I can personally help others and how our church can help our community, I am hopeful that we will get this figured out. We have smart minds, passionate people, resources above and beyond what we need, and the call to Love our Neighbors driving our faith.
Jesus says “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48 NRSV) I believe if we take that seriously, there can be abundant blessing for everyone. And if you or your group would like to participate in a poverty simulation, Crisis Control here in Winston Salem can assist your organization. It is humbling and eye opening to have a small empathetic insight into a day in the life. And next time you simply get in your car to drive to the grocery store or to get your hair cut, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing you are experiencing.
Grace and Peace,
[All statistics come from the Crisis Control website based on Census statistics: https://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/housing/documents/winstonsalemmeopreport.pdf ]