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Ivy Tech conducts 3-hour long poverty simulation

By Molly Johnson | IDS
POSTED AT 08:54 PM ON Feb. 25, 2009

Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington partnered with the South Central Community Action Program on Wednesday afternoon to hold a poverty simulation for Ivy Tech students and faculty.

The three-hour simulation was put on as a part of Ivy Tech-Bloomington’s yearlong focus on poverty.

The event, which involved about 100 volunteers on campus, was designed to simulate living in poverty for one month, with each week represented in 15-minute increments.
Ivy Tech asked the Community Action Program to join this endeavor because the local nonprofit group has held poverty simulations in the past.

A poverty simulation is a role–playing exercise in which volunteers act as a member of a poverty-stricken family.

When volunteers arrived at the simulation, they each received a packet of written information that told them who their family members were and what they were like, what their job was and how much money they had.

During the simulation, the volunteers take on the many obstacles people below the poverty line face everyday, said Bonnie Vesely, the South Central Community Action Program’s Circles coordinator.

“When people live in crisis mode all the time, they are never able to think ahead or plan for the future,” Vesely said. “This is a problem for many in poverty; the tyranny of the moment. The poverty simulation mimics the panic associated with going from crisis to crisis with very limited resources and can be a real eye-opener.”

To add to the role playing, the simulation also included booths of various organizations that provide services necessary for a family to access, such as a grocery store, hospital, bank, prison and school, Vesely said. She added that Ivy Tech volunteers – mostly made up of faculty members – staffed all the booths that represented the organizations.

After the simulation, Todd Lare, the executive director of the South Central Community Action Program, led a follow-up discussion in which participants could reflect and share insights about their experiences.

Ivy Tech-Bloomington’s poverty theme was inspired by this year’s Campus Common Reading project. This campus organization is responsible for choosing a book each year that is to be read campus-wide by students, faculty and staff to create a shared learning experience that extends beyond the classroom.

The book “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich, which offers a detailed memoir of a “real life” poverty simulation, was chosen for the 2008-2009 school year.

“We chose this book and the overarching theme of poverty because it is always an issue in any community,” said Peg Nelson, chairperson for the Campus Common Reading project. “Certainly part of our service commitment on campus is to help the community by educating people and making them aware of issues.”

Lare said many people are probably not aware of Bloomington’s poverty.

“What a lot of people miss is the substantial poverty hidden in pockets of Bloomington,” said Lare. “If you’re just at the University, you tend to miss it.”