Friday, December 2, 2016

Poverty Simulation Workshop Recap

As we lead into the winter months, it is a good time to reflect on the broad spectrum of socioeconomic dimensions in America. To broaden students’ understanding, Poverty Simulation Workshops were conducted across the three LUC campuses. Students and faculty from all programs were invited to attend and approximately 109 participated.

Poverty Facts
Official U.S. poverty rate (approximately 45.3 million people).
Average poverty rate for African-Americans and Hispanic/Latinos (compared to 9.6 for White non-Hispanic).
Rate of females in poverty (compared to 13.1 of males).

During the 3-hour simulation, participants were asked to role-play. Each was given a random card with the photo, age and backstory of the person who they were to bring to life. Some found themselves sitting alone, assigned a chair in a homeless shelter. Many were greeted by members of their family, however, the structure of that family was often far from what would be called “typical.” Others were assigned roles as teachers, social workers, employers, retailers and part of other community entities.

At the start of each program, the participants worked to understand their situation, dependencies and resources. The challenge was to make it through one month of paying bills, maintaining a job, caring for family members, staying healthy, etc. As the interconnectedness of the community became clear, so did the unique individual struggles. It is impossible not to feel a bond with one’s character and real stress from the difficulties they are facing with each passing simulated week.

Before joining LUC’s MPH program, Chloe Cavida’s interest in public health grew during her time as a research assistant at UIC. While knowing that pursuing this area of study would help her achieve her goal of bettering those in communities around her, she found the simulation to be enlightening in many ways. Following her participation, Chloe writes:

“I found myself getting frustrated and stressed especially when I didn’t know where to get help and consistently failed to make ends meet. This, unfortunately, isn’t a simulation for many families; it’s reality. I encourage everyone to participate in this simulation to better understand how we—as individuals who wish to serve the community and the individuals who comprise them—can create more awareness among policymakers and community leaders.”

Takeaways from the program included reminders of what our responsibilities are as public health professionals as well as compassionate members of our communities. These include:
  • Commit: Make a promise to yourself that you will take action to improve the lives of those living in poverty.
  • Educate: Learn more about the real struggles and share those stories with your peers and community organizers.
  • Volunteer: Give time or donate your skills to an organization that is helping to advance the lives of those at risk.
  • Write: Share your knowledge of issues with government officials, businesses and the media to communicate their importance.
  •  Socialize: Expand your network and understanding by making friends with people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
It was apparent at the end of the simulation that all were inspired by the roles they played as well as the confidence they gained in better understanding the issues. This experience will definitely be one that is recalled many times and especially impactful for those pursuing a career in public health.

The Poverty Simulation is designed by the Missouri Association for Community Action (MACA). Additional information is available at

The Poverty Simulation Workshop is part of a HRSA Grant #UD7HP26040, called I-CARE-PATH, to integrate interprofessional collaborative education to include all who are interested in health of communities.

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