Volunteers play roles to learn challenges

CAMBRIDGE – There’s more to being poor than some might think.

Participants from a variety of backgrounds and professions gathered Friday at the Dorchester Career and Technology Center for a poverty simulation to learn about the challenges and obstacles faced by many who live with limited incomes and options.

“The poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month,” a statement from organizers said. “It is a simulation, not a game. The object is to sensitize participants to the realities faced by low-income people.”

Those realities are all too common for many in Dorchester, which has been among the poorest of Maryland’s counties for years. That situation led several local organizations to sponsor the event.

In the simulation, participants assumed the roles of different families. Some families are newly unemployed, some are recently deserted by the “breadwinner,” some are homeless, and others are recipients of government assistance, either with or without additional earned income.

Still others are senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement or grandparents raising their grandchildren. The task of the “families” is to provide for basic necessities and shelter during a series of 15-minute “weeks,” while facing problems that crop up – for instance, just when everything seems set, transportation falls through, or an unexpected expense ruins plans.

The simulation was conducted in a large room at DCTC with the “families” seated in groups in the center of the room. Around the perimeter were tables representing community resources and services.

These included a bank, super center, Community Action Agency, employer, utility company, pawn broker, grocery, social service agency, faith-based agency, payday and title loan facility, mortgage company, school, community health center, and child care center.

Judy Center Coordinator Chareka Harris was one of the organizers from Dorchester County Public Schools. As the “families” circulated around the room, trying to make ends meet, she said, “It’s a diverse crowd we have in there,” mentioning that employers, police officers, and government service staff were among those present. “That’s what makes the simulation richer.”

Volunteers were recruited to staff the resource tables and to assume the roles of a police officer and a criminal.

In a neat bit of role reversal, Cambridge Police Department Sgt. Antwan Patton played the law breaker. He circulated through the room, not a member of a “family,” looking for participants to tempt with easy money.

“I can get a better understanding of what families go through,” he said. “In desperate times, people do desperate things.”

Ms. Harris said the hope was that participants would walk away with a different perspective, and be ready to help improve the situation. “Each person can make a difference,” she said.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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