Poverty Simulation Serves as a Wake-Up Call to Participants

Date Posted: 11/26/2013

What if you had to choose between paying rent or keeping your electricity on, and whatever money was left went toward groceries? What if there were agencies that could help you, but you had no transportation to obtain access to these free services?


During the Thanksgiving season known for an over abundance of food, 54 participants at First UMC Conroe had the poignant experience of going without – most of the everyday comforts of life, let alone any holiday niceties. As a part of a Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week ‘poverty simulation,’ they each had a unique role to play in a family trying to stretch very few dollars across mounting expenses.


“It was our prayer that each of us would emerge from this exercise with a completely different and more personal perspective of the realities of poverty,” explains Nancy Heinz, Director of Missions/Community Outreach. The participants received information profiles on the roles they would live out, and FUMC-Conroe also had 20 volunteers who played roles such as school teachers, bankers, Interfaith Services, utility collectors, pawnbrokers, food market clerks, social services case workers, mortgage collectors, and policemen.


For example, while families were doing their best to sell items to raise money for a critical need, some of them experienced the frustration of being robbed by a fellow group member playing the role of a desperate criminal. “The staff took their roles quite seriously. They did a great job of working with clients in some of the same ways that happen in real day-to-day service agencies,” adds Nancy, “including impatience, bad attitudes and poor treatment of clients.” Watch this video clip to get a sense of the range of emotions experienced throughout the simulation.


Three hours quickly dissipated, as each role playing hour was equivalent to a month living as a family in poverty.  Every 15 minutes represented one week and after four of these weeks, the participants spent 20 minutes processing in small groups led by one of the simulation facilitators. One of the questions was:  Did you buy the required foods each week?  Adds Nancy, “It was interesting to find that families were so consumed with figuring out how to keep the utilities on and to keep from being evicted, that they only remembered to get food two of the four weeks.  One family only bought food during one week.”


Another question they were asked was: Did your attitudes change during the month?  She recalls one participant saying, “I had more of a sense of urgency as the weeks went on.” Nancy admitted that the room collectively filled with frustration, anger, insecurity and hopelessness when nothing seemed to work.


What Now?

While brainstorming solutions, Nancy said one of the issues that they felt needed addressing was the lack of centralization of services and the great need for transportation. “The group agreed that there was too much red tape and that the employees at some of the different agencies were in need of more training to better serves the clients,” she says.



Nancy recommends “this wonderful interactive learning experience” for others in the Conference. Churches interested in knowing more about the Poverty Simulation, can contact Nancy Heintz, heintz@fumc-conroe.org or 936.756.3395 ext 104.