MONTGOMERY - Eye-opening. It was a descriptor used frequently Thursday night in Gold Room of Whitley Hall on the Montgomery Campus as students and community residents caught a glimpse of what it is like to face poverty.
Presented by Troy University and Alabama Possible, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing poverty and its root causes, took participants through four, 15-minute "weeks" and presented them with the challenges that many area families living in poverty experience every day.
"I thought it was a very interesting activity," said Andrea Lane, a graduate student in TROY's clinical mental health counseling program. "The things we had to deal with were frustrating and demonstrated what people facing poverty would actually experience."
The cumulative effect of the month took its toll on many of the participants, including Lane.
"It wasn't just figuring out how you were going to deal with one thing. Circumstances just built up, one on top of the other, and really made you understand that these situations can put people in positions to do things they otherwise wouldn't consider doing," Lane said.
TROY freshman Sam Moody experienced the simulation from a slightly different viewpoint. The Montgomery resident and graduate of Alabama Christian Academy served the roll of caregiver at one of 15 stations circling the room.
"It made me aware of the struggle that people in poverty face. For some, it was even a struggle to travel to somewhere in order to receive help," Moody said. "This is reality for a lot of people. I worked at Interfaith Services. I gave one woman $45 to pay her gas bill so that she could heat her home, but then she was faced with how she would meet her other responsibilities. I actually had to kick some people out of the homeless shelter because they had been there longer than was allowed. It was a very difficult thing to do."
Those lessons and the many others learned by participants is what Jonathan Cellon, Coordinator for Service Learning and Civic Engagement at TROY, hoped would be the result of the simulation.
"I think this exercise helped to raise awareness of the challenges that individuals and families in poverty face every day," he said. "Many of these challenges are interrelated. For many, it is a struggle even getting to and from work, but if you aren't able to get to work or get to work on time, you might lose your job. Then the problems mount even higher."
Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible, said the simulation was created by the Missouri Association for Community Action in an effort to help participants understand the challenges faced by low-income families and individuals.
"Our program gives participants a chance to experience the grinding realities of poverty," Scott said, noting that several participants in Thursday's simulation commented about the anxiousness they felt by the mock circumstances presented. "This simulation is based on real-life scenarios and expenses, and it gives participants a chance to understand why it is so hard to 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps.'"
According to the 2014 Alabama Possible Poverty Data Sheet, nearly 900,000 Alabamians, including 300,000 children, live below the federal poverty line. Many more hover just above the poverty line, which is an annual income of about $23,000 for a family of four. In Montgomery County along, 21.7 percent of residents live below the poverty line, including 31.3 percent of all children under the age of 18.
"Alabama Possible seeks to end poverty in our state through volunteer service, philanthropy and advocacy," Scott said. "We hope that participants in this simulation will ask themselves 'What am I passionate about?' We aren't looking to tell them what they should do, but rather asking simply that they do something to help."
TROY freshman Sam Moody and graduate student Princess Cuthrell try to provide assistance to a participant in Thursday's Poverty Simulation on the University's Montgomery Campus. (Troy University Photo/Kevin Glackmeyer)
Poverty Simulation participants stand in line at the "bank" during Thursday night's event on the Montgomery Campus. The roll-playing exercise took participants through four, 15-minute "weeks" during which they encountered various challenges and circumstances commonly experienced by those living in poverty. (Troy University Photo/Kevin Glackmeyer)