Leadership program experiences poverty simulation

What do you mean my TV is only worth $50? I paid $100! What do you mean I have to come back? I don’t have the money for a bus pass! How will I feed my children? I just want my dad to come home! Leadership Custer County was created by Custer Economic Development Corporation as a tool to encourage a pipeline of quality leaders in business and education that will funnel into important organization and positions of community leadership. The group of young leaders who have stepped forward and committed to a year of education and training spent Wednesday, Sept. 19, looking at how social issues impact your community. As part of this process they spent the afternoon in a poverty simulation exercise taking the roles of families in at risk situations. It wasn’t an easy afternoon. The class members were given a scenario to follow. It outlined the family members, their challenges, how the children were doing in school. Their outlook on life and their means to raise a living. Volunteers organized a fictitious community with a grocery store, bank, utility office, pawn shop and school. The community also had law enforcement, a transportation system, food bank, Health and Human Services office and good and bad guys. As the afternoon proceeded, the families drew life cards with good news, and bad. The difference between ‘situational poverty’ and ‘generational poverty’ was discussed. “Getting out of poverty is very, very difficult, especially in multi-generational poverty,” said Dee Dee Christian, one of the community volunteers for the exercise. “The people I work with do not have the resources to get the job done.” The Leadership Custer County participants were asked to think about the process. “Many times those children are expected to be the adults, they are expected to do adult chores,” noted Broken Bow Elementary School Principal Kim Jonas. “There are 15-year-olds doing things and the parents just look the other way” She went onto explain that sometimes parents don’t or can’t spend the time with their children they should, so when the child gets in trouble at school, the message the parent sends is that they will ‘raise cain’ in the child’s behalf to prove that they care, even if it was the child who was mis-behaving. Nate Bell remarked of the exercise that he was surprised how much work and how much it took to ‘be in poverty’ even for the short duration of the exercise. “At one point it was a job to not have a job,” he said. “How do you get someone to not quit their job? Their lives would be easier if we could teach financial sense,” he said later during the group discussion. Each of the make-shift families said they started out trying to do everything right ... but then circumstances got out of control. “One incident can send an at-risk family into a downward spiral, that for a family in poverty, once it is started it is hard to stop,” said UNL Educator and facilitator Ruth Vonderohe, and that was one of the points of the exercise. “It is cultural education,” she said.