Poverty Simulation Event

Can you survive one month on a low fixed income?

IMAGE: Photo of empty pockets

uwex-logo-2cThe Walworth County University of Wisconsin-Extension Office, Delavan-Darien School District and the Delavan-Darien Community Alliance are teaming up to provide a unique Poverty Simulation Event for any area resident (high school age or older) wanting to experience the challenges and barriers faced by low-income persons.

The free event will have participants navigating the life of a family in poverty poverty in a number of different unique scenarios assigned to them. Every 15 minutes in real time equates to one week in the simulation as participants have to survive their family scenarios and situations on modest incomes with surprises happening along the way.

They’ll have to visit and deal with loan collectors, “Quik Cash” stores, grocers and food pantries, rent and utility collectors, police, pawn brokers, employers and HR specialists, childcare centers and more. Some may even get sucked into a fictional life of crime as they try to find ways to make ends meet and survive the simulation with as much money and as little hardship as posible.

“This is not a game. This is a serious event that we hope will sensitize people to the barriers faced by those persons with low incomes,” said Yolanda Pena, an event coordinator with UW-Extension.

Space is limited to about 75 participants, so don’t delay in signing up. Use the link on the right of this page.

In addition to the participants, about 20 volunteers working the event will provide insight into the hardships poverty brings. Volunteers typically will have experienced poverty themselves or work regularly with those who are in poverty. Their insight is invaluable in follow-up discussions after the event.

Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness
    • Strengthen cross-cultural competence
    • Increase willingness to explore the unfamiliar or uncertain
    • Explore the dynamics of power and privilege
    • Consider the psycho-social aspects of stigma and marginality
  • Empathy
    • Try on the perspective of another
    • Understand the psycho-social impact of stigma and marginality
  • Knowledge and Critical Thinking
    • Gain knowledge of the impact of public policy

Key Concepts:

  • It’s difficult to overcome poverty when you have few resources to begin with. Poor and low-income families are forced to make difficult decisions and change priorities under pressure.
  • The decisions they make may be different than the decisions a person with more resources would make.
  • Stereotypes can influence and bias in our interactions with individuals in poverty.

Can’t Make It?

If you can’t make our live event, try an online poverty simulation. We recommend trying “Spent,” which lets you “choose your pathway” to navigating the war zone of poverty.

Event Details!

The Data

Although not as highly visible as an urban area, Walworth County and the Delavan-Darien area has a large number of residents who struggle financially.

The Delavan-Darien School District alone has about 70% of its students qualify for the federal Free & Reduced Lunch Price program. Also, about 120 students in the 2015-16 school year were determined to have had non-stable living arrangements (sleeping regularly in shelters, hotels, at friends or relative’s houses, in cars, campgrounds, etc.)

The US Census Bureau estimated that about 1 in 5 city of Delavan residents were below the poverty line. The city also has lower median and household income than county and state averages.


Why have a poverty simulation?

This welfare simulation experience is designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to be a part of a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month. It is a simulation, not a game.

The goal is to provide an experience that sensitizes participants to barriers faced by low-income people. These include institutionalized power structures, public policy, time constraints, lack of transportation and facing multiple challenges at one time. Participants will experience first-hand the pressures that push low-income families into making difficult decisions.

How does it work?

The simulation involves participants who take on the roles of members of up to 26 fictional families, all facing a variety of challenging, but typical circumstances. To start the simulation exercises, each family is given a card explaining its unique circumstances. It is then the families’ task to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities by accessing various community resources during the course of four, 15-minute weeks (one hour total time).

About 20 volunteers — some of which have experienced poverty themselves or work often with people in poverty — play the roles of resource providers in the community. This allows individuals who have first-hand knowledge of poverty bring their experiences and perceptions to the simulation.

What do you mean "survive?"

Each “family” situation is unique. The families will have to work together and visit various community resources that can help serve their needs or even deduct from their meager incomes. The services include a bank, church food pantry, employment office, pawn broker, grocery store, human services office, currency exchange, school and others. Families will also have to deal with police, utility collectors, landlords and rent collectors, and an “illegal activities” person.

Who should sign up to participate, and is it free?

Yes. It’s free to participate in the simulation. We’re seeking individuals who are high school-aged or older from the Walworth County area. This simulation is an effective tool for those who influence policy that effects the poor, such as legislators, teachers, case workers, members of a faith community, health care professionals, management staff, college students, corporations, community organizations and law enforcement officials.

Do I bring anything if I participate?

Materials will be provided for you as a simulation participant. But, if you’d like to bring something to help those in need, we’ll certainly accept it! Some ideas include non-perishable food items for the food pantry, kids undergarments (socks and underwear) or personal hygiene products for the Comet Care Center at the Delavan-Darien School District,  gas cards for residents at Twin Oaks shelter, or a financial contribution to a local charity that helps individuals and families in poverty.

What happens after the simulation?

Following introductions of our participants and volunteers, the simulation itself should take about an hour. Afterward, there will be a “debrief” discussion where dialogue can be had between all those present. Maybe we’ll share some ideas for solutions to help people less fortunate in our community!

How was this simulation developed?

The Welfare Simulation is a copyrighted learning tool created first by the Reform Organization of Welfare Education Association, currently known as the Missouri Association for Community Action. It was updated with support from and incorporation with the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and further adapted by the University of Wisconsin-Extension, Family Living Programs. Major adaptations include modifying the kit’s components to reflect Wisconsin forms and policies, such as replacing food stamps with the Quest card.

How do I volunteer to help out at the simulation?

Thanks for considering volunteering! If space is available, you can sign up using the same form as our participants. We’ll have special training meetings for our volunteers and will be in touch with them as they are scheduled. The kit comes with “scripts” for each volunteer so just about anyone can be a volunteer! If you’ve experienced poverty or work with people in poverty, please consider this volunteer opportunity!