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Poverty simulation experience to take place on March 3

By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

A unique and enlightening community event has been scheduled for March 3 at the Centenary United Methodist Church on Hampton Road in Clemmons. The public is invited to attend a poverty simulation experience that is being sponsored by the Lewisville-Clemmons Chamber of Commerce and the Clemmons Community Foundation.

Dr. Vincent Howell is the pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church, and he is excited that his church will be hosting the event. “We are a service-based church,” he said, “and this allows us as a faith community to serve individuals in our area.  Hosting this event will help us to understand the complexity of people’s lives.”

The poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants to understand what it might be like to live in a low-income situation. Those participating will role-play the lives of families who experience difficult financial circumstances including individuals who are disabled, seniors living on limited incomes, and those who are TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients.

Participants at the event will have the opportunity to interact with human service agencies, grocers, pawn brokers, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers and others.

Bill Blackburn is the project director for Crisis Control Ministries. The non-profit organization will be supervising the poverty simulation experience. He mentioned that volunteers run this event about 15 to 20 times a year for groups of 40 to 60 participants.

He explained the logistics of the experience that runs for about two hours. Each participant is given one of 80 kits that depict a poverty situation. They are then given 15 minutes to play out their assigned role that involves real-life circumstances facing families and individuals dealing with poverty. The tasks that they role-play include budgeting, dealing with transportation needs, scheduling and running errands. The role-plays are followed by a debriefing session where participants have the chance to share their reactions to the experience.

“Each role is real-life and stressful,” Blackburn remarked. “The kits are amazing in the amount of detail presented,” he said. “The experience is intense and stressful for everyone who participates, but it makes it possible to become aware of what it is like to live in poverty. During the debriefing session, participants express many emotions including sadness, frustration and anger.”

Blackburn noted that although the number of families living in poverty decreased slightly from 2016 to 2018 according to census data, about 18% of families in Forsyth County live in poverty, and this represents more than 60,000 people.

Sandi Scannelli is the president and CEO of the Clemmons Community Foundation. She is grateful that the local community is supportive of events like the poverty simulation experience, and she sees the event as an opportunity to become empathetic for those in need. “We live in communities where leaders and residents care about and want to help those in need,” she said.  “To help lift people out of poverty, it’s important to understand the full range of systems, supports, and requirements that those seeking to change their circumstances are trying to navigate. You’ve heard the saying, ‘to understand, you have to walk a mile in my shoes.” The poverty simulation attempts to put the shoes of poverty on its participants and walk a mile in order to gain a deeper understanding. The Clemmons Community Foundation has funded this experience as a way to support the efforts of local leaders in their service to those in need.”

Similar sentiments were offered by Ditra Miller, the executive director of the Lewisville-Clemmons Chamber of Commerce.  “There’s an overwhelming sense of community here with neighbors helping neighbors,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine that we may have friends, co-workers or neighbors who are struggling financially and living paycheck to paycheck. Our Leadership Lewisville-Clemmons participants and members of our community will take part in this simulation experience to gain a deeper understanding of the realities of poverty and the struggles to climb out of it.”

The cost of the event is $10. The registration fee includes the poverty simulation experience and lunch. Anyone who is interested in attending can email Ditra Miller at ditra@lewisville-clemmons.com.