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The Cost of Poverty Experience: Put Yourself in Poverty

Why a group of volunteers role-played the poverty experience in Decatur Township.

INDIANAPOLIS--What if you had to choose between buying food and paying the gas bill. Poverty can be more than just having to make a tough choice like that. That's why the Marion County Commission on Youth got together with a non-profit called the Think Tank to simulate what it's like to live in poverty.

"What does it look like for a person every single day and how they navigate the world?" said Kimberly Ewing, a bullying prevention trainer and volunteer. She was one of about 50 people who gathered at Decatur Township School for Excellence, Monday.

"People need to be more educated about this and really have an understanding that there's more pieces to a person that is struggling on an every day basis," she said.

To help in that understanding, volunteers became market owners, homeless shelter leaders, police officers, probation officers, court clerks, and faith-based volunteers. In four fifteen-minute sessions, they helped simulate the frustrations and the daily grind of people who don't have enough money.


"You're always trying to catch up. You don't have a savings account because there's no reason to have a savings account," said Ewing.

The people who played the role of people in poverty were given identities. Some were children, some were adults. The stories they played out were real stories from families in Dayton, Ohio.

Jacie Farris, who is the communications director for MCCOY role-played as someone who was helping from a church.

"I can give money out freely. But, I've only got so much. I've also got some grocery vouchers," she said, simulating the money troubles that some faith-based groups run into when trying to help.

Ewing said poverty, from which 41 million Americans suffer, doesn't necessarily mean you're homeless. It means that in one way or another, you stay behind.

"Maybe you have a vehicle or you don't have a vehicle. Maybe you're not homeless, but you sure don't have any food in the cabinets," she said. "Poverty is not just a person who is homeless on the streets. It's really gonna vary according to a person and their upbringing and, of course, their cycle of it."

But, she said you need to be aware that you can help, first by learning about poverty and then by learning about the organizations that help.

"I think I'd like to take the knowledge of walking in their shoes back to my work day to day when I work with families who are experiencing poverty," said Jimmannee, who is a site coordinator at Decatur Township High School.

That's the hope for MCCOY and other organizations who host COPE, the Cost of Poverty Experience, several times a year.

PHOTOS: Chris Davis/Emmis

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