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Understanding Income Challenges: United Way Poverty Simulations

February 25, 2016

This month, the Volunteer and Community Engagement team at United Way of Northeast Florida facilitated two poverty simulations. One poverty simulation was part of a workshop for a national team of SunTrust employees held in Downtown Jacksonville.

The other simulation took place at FSCJ Nassau. This simulation was the first of its kind, catering to individuals dedicated to cultivating a “Better Nassau.” These individuals participated on behalf on various non-profit organizations that provide services in education, income and health to Nassau County.

Nassau County participants interact with the various community resources of the simulation.
Nassau County participants interacted with the various community resources of the simulation.

These poverty simulation exercises are designed to give participants a greater understanding of the challenges low-income families face. For the two-hour exercise, each person is assigned to a family that must then overcome obstacles such as losing a job, gaining access to public transportation and the importance of budgeting for essentials such as rent and groceries.

Our goal for poverty simulation exercises is to raise awareness and create discussion about the issues hard-working families with limited assets and income face every day. The exercises help participants understand the importance of United Way initiatives such as Success by 6, ReadingPals and RealSense, which provide education and income resources to families across Northeast Florida. We hope these poverty simulations also empower participants to take action through giving to or volunteering with United Way to support our initiatives.

Several participants were evicted and became homeless.
Several participants became homeless during the exercise.

“I felt pretty good about halfway through,” said Nassau County Council on Aging Board President Barbara Gingher about the poverty simulation exercise. Then, when I lost my job and I was back on my mortgage, all of a sudden the bottom fell out, and I had three kids that I wasn’t paying attention to and my husband was out of work. At the very last minute, I found another job, it wasn’t the best, but then I felt a little bit more helpful.”

At the end of each simulation, the group comes together and discusses what they felt and experienced during the simulation. Participants from both groups used words such as panic, fear, desperation, confusion and frustration to describe what they endured.

“As a facilitator of the exercise for about seven years, it’s always interesting to see how individual participants handle certain challenges, such as limited or no transportation or unexpected news that create even more financial stress,” said United Way Vice President of Volunteer and Community Engagement Coretta Hill.  “It’s always fascinating to see the participants show real emotion and frustration near the end of the simulation. Hearing business and community leaders’ share how their perceptions change after completing the exercise is most rewarding.”

If you are interested in United Way facilitating a poverty simulation for your organization, contact Corinne Tippens at 904-330-3962 or corinneh2@nulluwnefl.org.