OLS participants learn hardship first hand with poverty simulation

EVART — Members of the Osceola Leadership Summit experienced a glimpse into the lives of people living at or below the poverty level during a simulation exercise at Crossroads Community Church in Evart.

Simulation participants were separated into "families," and given a scenario detailing their home situation, finances and other life factors that could hinder their chances for employment, health coverage and other necessities. Members were invited to bring additional community members.

"This is a simulation where the different participants are given a scenario where they are the dad, the mom, the child or grandma, and this is their life, home and these are the things they need to do to keep the family afloat this month," said Frontline Specialists President and CEO Al Weinberg, who also facilitates the summit. "With that, they go through their month — where every 15 minutes is a week — and try to accomplish the tasks that they have. The whole idea of this is to get a better understanding what it's like to live in poverty."

During that period of time, certain life events will occur as an additional struggle for the participants while they figure out how to balance everything in life within a restricted budget.

"I expect to see some frustration," Weinberg said with a laugh. "I expect to see some stress and empathy as people realize it's not as easy as they thought it would be. I think it would be important for people to gain some real knowledge of what DHS does and where a need is that they can fill in the community. I think some eyes are going to be opened."

Karen Roy, the director of general education at the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District, helped run the simulation and kept the group on schedule.

"It's a challenge for the folks who are going through this whole process and it's a learning experience," Roy said. "We just want them to become more sensitive to the families we see or work with in our community, or see what it's like to be in their shoes. Many times it makes people more sensitive when they interact with others who are dealing with this situation of poverty."

Poverty is a significant problem in Osceola and Mecosta counties, she added. Currently, about one in four people, or 25 percent, deal with living in poverty every day. Poverty levels in elementary schools are high, with many receiving free and reduced lunch.

"We just know that it's challenging to meet all the needs in the community that families have," Roy said. "I strongly encourage people to participate in a poverty simulation if they ever have the opportunity to do so. There's no cost to do this."

The simulation was the second for participant Heidi Quist, who joined to enjoy the event.

"The poverty simulation is amazing and it really gives you a better idea about what the desperation level is that people are facing and how impossible sometimes the tasks can seem," Quist said. "It's especially important for those of us in the helpful services to have some empathy for the people who come through the door."

She believes participants will take away the idea of the struggles residents face every day that some may not be aware of. Even in her second time through, the experience of the simulation allows her to see a different side of what poverty can look like.

"Sometimes people do have a home and a vehicle and don't have to be homeless to really be struggling with day-to-day tasks of living and the challenges that poverty presents," Quist added. "I recommend this experience to anybody, especially if they're in or considering a helping profession. It's dynamite."

Individuals or groups interested in taking part in a future poverty simulation can call the MOISD at (231) 796-3543.