United Way Services of Geauga County to host poverty simulation

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer 

Poverty Simulation

The Geauga Income Collaborative will host a July 28 poverty simulation to help participants better understand the needs of the community.

The simulation is an hour long, with each 15 minutes representing one week. Participants are assigned a role in a low-income family, then must navigate social and community services, including job and family services, pawn shops, banks and public transit.

The Geauga Income Collaborative, founded by the United Way Services of Geauga County, is a group of service agencies, businesses and residents in Geauga County working to improve income services in the community.

Volunteers will staff the services participants interact with.

Missouri Community Action Network modeled the 26 simulation family profiles after real social work cases.

“They really set it up to be as realistic as possible, so people can kind of experience what that stress is like,” said Rose French, fellow at the Center for Community Solutions. “I’ve been a social worker for almost 10 years, so the concepts weren’t new to me. But what I really took from it was feeling that psychological stress. That’s really kind of powerful, to think about what it would be like to feel that every single day, just to meet your basic needs.”

First Simulation

This is the first time United Way Services of Geauga County has hosted a simulation. Mary O’Shea, director of advocacy at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, has facilitated this event for several organizations, and said she has seen a growing demand during the past year.

“It’s grown quite a bit,” she said. “Four or five years ago, we were doing one or two a year. We’re getting requests from places like MetroHealth, Baldwin Wallace University, a variety of church groups. I think we’ll probably do about ten of them this year.”

The simulation is free and open to the public. It targets board members, CEOs and policy makers to help them better understand the issues in their community.

State Representative John Patterson plans to attend the event. While he has had other poverty training, it will be his first time participating in a poverty simulation. He said he hopes to gain knowledge and a plan for action to better serve the communities he represents.

“I’m very much aware of and sensitive to poverty in Geauga County and in the other part of our district in Ashtabula County,” he said. “I seek to learn as much as I can about the issue and how we can help those in need.”

The simulation kit is not tailored to any one community, and is designed to inspire conversation after the experience. It invites volunteers and participants to talk about what they have learned and how it relates to the communities they serve.

“Consistently, what we find is people think they know what it’s like to live in poverty,” O’Shea said. “But this really opens their eyes to how much work it is to be poor, how much of their time is spent trying to plan and trying to get things together just to keep their house and home together.”

This event is the culmination of the ongoing learning events series United Way Services of Geauga has hosted. The partnership is grant-funded with the Poverty Center at Case Western Reserve University and The Center for Community Solutions. Greater Cleveland Food Bank facilitates the simulation, originally developed by the Missouri Community Action Network ten years ago.

Registration is required to take part in the simulation and discussion afterwards. It will take place at the Kent State University campus at Geauga in Burton, Ohio at 9 a.m. For more information, contact Monica Bricker-Thompson at (216) 436-2044 or mthompson@uws.org.

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