The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and Office of the Chaplaincy hosted the 10th Poverty Simulation on Wednesday with the goal to generate discussion among its participants about the day-to-day difficulties faced by less-fortunate people through accurately capturing a low- to zero-income lifestyle.

Participants were given various roles in a low-income family, and they were challenged to survive four “rounds” that represent the weeks in a month. The simulation sought to “sensitize participants to the day-to-day realities of living a life of poverty,” program director Adrienne Piazza said.

Although the program has been critiqued in the past for being an ill-fitting replacement for community immersion and service, the CCE has shifted its focus to primarily stimulating conversation and inquiry among the event’s participants. The Missouri Association for Community Action rendered the program.

“We’re obviously taking a lot of things for granted to make the simulation possible,” Piazza said. “These are all English-speaking families. None of these families represent the lowest income percentiles. We all know what [institutions] the various stations represent, and what they can do.”

Discourse, not absolute realism, has become the purpose of the simulation. Piazza said this iteration of the simulation focused on food as a challenge for the poor in order to direct students towards the One Book, One Richmond selection, “The Stop.” The book tells the story of a food bank’s transformation from a barely functional pantry into a thriving community center.

“We invite students to come back and take part in our Brown Bag discussions, which are more specific inquiries into poverty,” Piazza said. "Some of our participants take part as a class requirement, which means they’re going to continue to talk about [poverty] every day.”

All of the participants were enrolled in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies' Justice and Civil Society class. Piazza said it was still somewhat concerning that this semester’s event only attracted students who were required to attend the simulation.

Those present said the program had allowed them to imagine the difficulties and emotions more accurately that are felt by the nation’s less-fortunate. The small group reflections at the end of the simulation allowed students to discuss what they had learned.

Sophomore Timothy Benedict, who was placed in the role of an unemployed mother, mentioned the sense of entrapment that someone who is in poverty could feel.

“I just felt powerless to do anything to improve my position,” he said. “I couldn’t get a job, and so much of my time was spent waiting, hoping that my partners would bring in enough to last us the week.”

Other students expressed similar sentiments, arguing that a lack of time, money and knowledge could all contribute to stagnation in socioeconomic status.

Sophomore Amy Littleson shared the frustration she felt regarding the "luck of the draw" cards that represented real life strokes of fortune or misfortune. “It was just so chaotic and stressful,” she said. “Our family plans fell apart, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next.”

Littleson said the simulation challenged her to “be more conscious about the little things we do.”

“The smallest thing can make or break someone’s day,” she said, “especially when you live on a day-to-day basis.”

The CCE and the Chaplaincy will continue the program with the 11th Poverty Simulation next fall.

Contact reporter Janus Cataluna-Palma at janus.catalunapalma@richmond.edu