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Poverty Simulation demonstrates critical issue

The Lewis J. Burger Center for Leadership and the Heart of Illinois United way co-sponsored the Poverty Simulation. Photo by Miguel Agyei.

Approximately 38.1 million people, or 11.8 percent of Americans are in poverty, according to the 2018 United States census. While it may be a challenge to imagine what it is like to be in those shoes, this week’s poverty simulation illustrates the reality of the hardships some people face every day.

On Monday, the Lewis J. Burger Center for Leadership and Service and the Heart of Illinois United Way sponsored a poverty simulation for students, faculty and staff on the Bradley campus. The organization is volunteer-driven in the community that helps support critical health and human care services.

The Poverty Simulation is an experience designed to help participants understand what it would be like to live in a low-income family trying to live month to month.

“We were told to navigate different aspects of life depending on who your character was, and even though you tried to play the role … you didn’t really have a lot of control as to how you were able to ‘win the game’ and be successful,” Kory Turner, a junior public health major, said.

The simulation takes around an hour and a half to complete. Participants are assigned different characters and situations of a typical low-income family. They experience those situations in four 15-minute “weeks.” 

During those four 15-minute weeks, participants were tasked in maintaining a safe home while providing all the necessities one needs, such as food, shelter, utilities, healthcare or expenses. 

“The experience is supposed to build an awareness and a level of understanding as it relates to what it might be like for somebody living in poverty, or somebody who might be living on the cusp of poverty,” said Stephen Peterson, vice president of resource development at the Heart of Illinois United Way.

According to Peterson, about two or three years ago, they started looking into new ways it could continue to bring education and awareness, and a poverty simulation came to mind. 

They went through training and attended conferences in order to get certified to host these types of simulations. 

“If people can get the feel for what it might be like over the course of a month, the level of empathy, compassion [and] understanding just kind of builds from that,” Peterson said.


Around 40 to 80 participants and 15 to 20 to volunteers are needed to facilitate the simulation. 


After the simulation, participants and volunteers break off into discussion groups to discuss experiences and receive resources and information.


“It’s an eye-opening experience, as well as a reminder for people to understand what it’s like to experience poverty … It’s just a cycle that is continuous. It doesn’t end after we finish the simulation,” Turner said. 

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