“Living on the Edge” Simulates Living Life Below the Poverty Level

Byline: Janessa Demeule

Posted: April 4, 2011

Feed the family or pay the heating bill? Sell family heirlooms to pay this month's electricity bill or live in the dark? Many Americans thrown into poverty make these kinds of judgments each day to survive. Last month, over 70 participants lived for two hours on the edge of poverty. They faced those decisions that many face each day.

Ending Poverty and the Stereotypes Around It

"Living on the Edge" is a poverty simulation that was held at Wilson by the Wilson College Chaplaincy program on Tues, Feb. 22. It was sponsored by Circles Chambersburg. Circles is a national organization that works to end poverty and the stereotypes surrounding it in the United States. Circles Chambersburg is community-driven and led by the nonprofit South Central Community Action Programs. The purpose of this simulation was to open the eyes of the community to the plight of poverty. Chaplain Rosie Magee, head of Wilson College's Chaplaincy program, hopes that this simulation brings understanding and change in the participants lives, "People may have some sense of what it means to be poor or to not have the resources necessary to make it from month to month, but when you go through a simulation like this, it becomes very real. It provides a level of understanding for those who live under that sort of stress constantly. This situation is all too familiar for many in our community. Hopefully, this event promoted honest dialog which is the first step in equipping ourselves to take action and make a difference."

The Poverty Simulation Experience

Participants were split into families of varying sizes. Some were families of four, others were single-parent homes, and there were even independent seniors. Each family had one month, or 60 minutes split into four 15 minute weeks, to figure out what was necessary to keep them alive. This involved negotiating with the welfare system, finding housing, schooling, child care, transportation, food provision, health care and many other life necessities, with limited resources and provisions. There were also tables representing homeless shelters, banks, pawn shops and jails to simulate hardships that poverty stricken families face each day. As each week passed the participants' frustration grew because they were not able to make ends meet. At the end of the first hour, the simulation was over. The second hour consisted of discussion and reflection.

Student Reactions to Poverty Simulation

The simulation made an impact on those in attendance. Selena Sunderland ‘12 left feeling blessed and believes the simulation was a good experience because, "it opens your eyes to the way other people live their lives, and it makes you appreciate your own."

Though the simulation is over, the fight against poverty is not. Chaplain Magee points out that, "Participants got a window into the world of ‘Living on the Edge' of poverty – the anxiety, the juggling of resources, the time constraints, the frustration of working hard and yet falling further and further behind. The simulation ended but for the working poor it doesn't end, it is the reality of their day-to-day lives."

Many Americans still live in poverty. If you have any interest in helping out the community or in Circles work please contact Jon Rabers of Circles at (717) 263-5060 x320.

Last Updated: October 14, 2011

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