Could you survive a month in poverty?

That’s what almost 100 people found out last Tuesday. Eighty-five community members, along with United Way staff, attended a poverty simulation on April 14th, 2015 hosted by United Way NWA, in collaboration with NWACC. The simulation was set up to foster a stressful environment which people in poverty feel daily. Each person was given a role to play and had to go through four 15-minute weeks. Every week you were responsible for real-life tasks based on your situation such as getting housing, paying bills, grocery shopping, going to school, going to work and etc.

Before the simulation, I spoke with a few people to gather their thoughts on poverty in our area and what effect they thought this simulation would have on those that attend. Here are their responses:

What do you think poverty looks like in our area?
  • “I think it is invisible to a lot of people because we have Walmart, Tyson and JB Hunt but there are definitely pockets of poverty.” -Mabel Aguirre and her parents are immigrants from Costa Rica and she grew up in poverty. They didn’t even speak the language when coming here. She currently works for the University of Arkansas but still has family living in poverty.
  • “It’s a lot higher than people think. Benton County is one of the highest rated counties for hunger in the state…”-Teresa Williamson was a single mother of two working her way through college and she has worked in non-profit organizations for 20 years.
  • “I think there is a misconception about poverty in our area because of the large corporations.” -Karen Parker works for the Walmart Foundation who provides grants to those in poverty.
  • “I know more than I would have because I am on the Board of Directors of United Way NWA. Before, I didn’t realize it was such a significant issue.” -Ken Robertson is a United Way Board member and besides what he knows from this position, he has had little experience with poverty other than very early childhood.

Do you think the simulation will change yours or other’s perceptions?

  • “I think maybe in seeing how others that didn’t grow up in it react to it.”-Mabel Aguirre
  • “I think there are individuals who don’t realize how hard poverty is.”-Teresa Williamson
  • “I’ve done one before and it was very impactful.”-Karen Parker
  • “I think it will deepen my understanding even further of challenges that I don’t see but are right in front of my face.”-Ken Robertson

After the simulation I was able to talk to some of the same people and a few more to gather their reactions.

  • Teresa Williamson was tasked with being a realty agent. “I would watch people celebrate when they could pay but also the heavy sigh when they knew they were going to be evicted.” She felt that it was very similar to real situations she has seen working in non-profit over the years.
  • Mabel Aguirre found that the sense of community that she had with her “neighbors” was what helped the most in getting through the month. One neighbor would go buy groceries while an elderly neighbor would watch the children.
  • Kathleen Trotter, a United Way board member, found that the most difficult thing was that even though she was grateful for having a job, she had no time to go pay the bills, much less see her family.
  • The most impactful realization for Ken was the difference in what celebration looked like.“My family celebrates our 3 children graduating from college this year, taking vacations and things like that. I could hear people all around me celebrating when they paid a bill and didn’t have that stress anymore, or when they had even $1 left at the end of the month.”
  • “I have 4 children. Knowing that THOUSANDS of children are in poverty or near poverty and going without meals breaks my heart. I have worked with several organizations that work with children and children’s meal programs and what you realize is that you never know who is hungry. My daughter’s best friend could be hungry and I wouldn’t even know by looking at her. You never know if your neighbor, co-worker, friend, or even family member is going hungry and doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from or how they are going to feed their children.” –Stephanie Jackson played the police officer in the simulation.

These are only a few of the people who felt impacted by this simulation. It was a moving experience and gives us only a glimpse of what it’s like to live in poverty. There are many in our community who are living this right now. 26,000 children are living in poverty in NWA. That’s nearly 1 in 4 children.

No matter how small, there is always something you can do. Volunteer, donate, or even just being kind to someone can make a difference in their day. You never know what they are going through at home.


YOU can be the difference.

You can check out volunteer opportunities here