Chelsea Moger, Cody Tarr and Cindy Bannister were a family for a day as part of a poverty simulation at Northwest College on Oct. 31. They were among approximately 50 participants — most of …
Chelsea Moger, Cody Tarr and Cindy Bannister were a family for a day as part of a poverty simulation at Northwest College on Oct. 31. They were among approximately 50 participants — most of them nursing students — in an instructive game meant to raise awareness of the challenges that disadvantaged people face.
Each participant was put on a team to act as a family, many of them non-traditional in relationships. In Moger’s “family,” she played the role of Doris Duntley, a mother of two teens whose father had just left them to fend for themselves. Tarr played her 14-year-old daughter, Diana, and Bannister played Doris’ 17-year-old delinquent son.
The participants needed to go about acquiring services from various providers, ensuring their families paid rent and utilities, got to work and school, and sought healthcare services. There were tables respresenting employers, schools, banks, homeless shelters, social workers, pawn shops, payday loans, healthcare providers and law enforcement.
The exercise aimed to show a month’s struggle in poverty, played out in 15-minute races that represented weeks.
Getting services wasn’t as simple as walking up to the providers’ tables and asking for what they needed. To speak to anyone, they had to provide transportation passes, which simulated the challenges of getting to services without quick access to a car.
For the third week, the social services table was closed. Some weeks the schools were closed, and parents had to arrange daycare for their kids. If they didn’t, their child was taken by a policeman until the parent came to pick him or her up, which ate up more transportation passes and money. And if they ran out of money to pay rent or mortgage, they could end up in the homeless shelter — which cost another transportation pass.
At a pawn shop manned by Linda Payne, participants could sell off electronics, represented by cards they received in a packet, to pay for the things they need. To get their pawned items back was prohibitively expensive, and Payne shortchanged some of the people who sold her items, which was a situation the poor sometimes face at certain businesses.
Another participant went around handing out “luck of the draw” cards, which simulated unexpected events such as illnesses or lottery winnings that impacted the participants’ situations positively and negatively.
Moger’s situation in the simulation went from bad to worse. Bannister, playing the 17-year-old son, stole a car and eventually turned to selling drugs, spurred on by a volunteer playing a “shark” who exploited the participants’ desperation. Bannister also sold a microwave to Wubeshaw Asseged, another participant in the simulation. Asseged needed cash and thought she could pawn off the microwave, although Bannister knew the pawn broker wasn’t buying microwaves anymore. Bannister wanted to make money selling the fake drugs that Asseged traded.
While everything was done in good humor, many participants remarked at the end of the exercise how, by the fourth week, the desperation was so high they found themselves doing things to get by that they would never think of doing in real life.
Andrew Smith, a nursing student at the college, played a case worker in the game this year, but last year, he was one of the impoverished players. He said the experience was eye opening.
“You always hear about families struggling, but you never get to experience yourself,” he said. “This really makes you realize what they go through.”
Smith said in his career he’ll encounter a lot of people of limited means, and this will help him better understand their situation and be a better nurse.
The exercise was organized by the Heart Mountain Free Clinic, Cody Regional, and Christ Episcopal Church in Cody, with funding from the Foundation of the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming.