On Monday, student leaders from throughout the Belmont community participated in a poverty simulation event co-hosted by the Honors Program’s Leadership Studies program and Catholic Charities. The highly interactive simulation was intended to give students a small taste of what life is like on an extremely limited income. For one hour, participants were asked to join the nearly 40 million U.S. citizens who live with incomes below the poverty line, and through role-playing they faced some of the many challenges that confront real low-income families.
The simulation opened with representatives from Metro Social Services and Catholic Charities sharing statistics on poverty throughout the world as well as locally. Students were then assigned “roles” and “families” and spent the next hour—broken into four 15-minute weeks—attempting to go to work, pay bills, send children to school and deal with unexpected hardships.
Metro Social Services Dinah Gregory explained, “This simulation is intended to help students identify with the poor. Poverty can happen to any of us at any time.”
Junior nursing major Jennifer Thompson took part in the event, which was titled “Knowing Our Neighbors: Coming to Understand Poverty in Our Community.” During the simulation she played the role of a married grandmother who took care of two grandchildren; the grandfather in the family had mobility issues so Jennifer worked full-time while the grandchildren attended school.
“I’ve done evaluations like that before but not one so personal where you are physically carrying out those roles,” Thompson said. “I knew it was hard and stressful, but being put in that situation made a world of difference… [It was challenging] trying to balance all the errands necessary to accomplish in one day, with work, getting food, paying bills, etc. It was extremely difficult to pay all the bills, and by the fourth week we were evicted and the granddaughter was in jail.”
Thompson, who already works with a student organization which partners with nonprofits, said the poverty simulation encouraged her to become even more involved with social work that involves helping homeless or low-income families.
“This experience made me realize again just how fortunate and blessed I am, and how thankful I need to be. Also, it’s helped put me in their shoes—barely, but enough—that I can try to be more understanding when I encounter others throughout the day.”
This year the Honors Program’s Project LEAD launched the Belmont Poverty Council, under advisor and Associate Professor of Honors Dr. Kristine LaLonde. The Council, consisting of seven Honors Leadership students, is partnering with Metro Nashville’s Poverty Reduction Initiative, to tangibly address the issues of poverty in the Nashville community. Each student is assigned to one of the Poverty Reduction Initiative’s action teams and will act as staffers for the teams. Additionally, seven Belmont faculty/staff members are serving on the action teams.
Belmont Poverty Council member Daniel Warner is a junior Religion and the Arts major who works as a Resident Assistant in Maple Hall and is involved in various inner city ministries. Warner’s role in the simulation was to create and encourage illegal activities in the community.
“From the actions of the various family members, I learned that a lack of knowledge is one of the biggest hindrances to navigating one’s way through poverty,” Warner said. “Most of the students who participated come from upper middle class families, and this was made evident by how unaware they were of the different community action centers. This lack of knowledge perfectly illustrated the struggles of those in situational poverty as opposed to generational poverty.”
For additional information on the Belmont Poverty Council, contact Dr. LaLonde or firstname.lastname@example.org.