Community members participate in Poverty Simulation

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Family's Helping Hand and the GMHC Family Resource Center held a Poverty Simulation on Nov. 15. From left, Mandy Ludovissy and Sadie Hefel pose as payday advance representatives assisting House District Representative Anne Osmundson, while former Mayor Russ Loven works with pawn shop representative Adam Sadwasser. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Family's Helping Hand, a non-profit group based in Guttenberg, and the Guttenberg Municipal Hospital and Clinics (GMHC) Family Resource Center held a Poverty Simulation on Friday, Nov. 15, for area providers and community members. The four-hour event was held in the upper level auditorium of the Guttenberg Municipal Building. 

The simulation provided those in attendance with a real-life experience of the difficulties that individuals living in poverty face on a daily basis. 

Kari Harbaugh, Family Resource Center Coordinator and Family's Helping Hand board member, explained the group's purpose. "The main objective for those participating in the program is to re-think their attitude toward individuals experiencing financial hardship," she shared.

Personal experience

As a member of The Guttenberg Press I was honored to be part of the experience.

My fictional family encompassed a father who was incarcerated and being held in jail for 45 days. The mother of the family had been absent for several years. My siblings included a 21-year-old brother, who was enrolled in college, my 13-year-old twin sister and a baby brother, age three.

We were awarded, in a packet, a meager amount of cash, some valuables that could be pawned for money, our Social Security cards, the title to a vehicle and five transportation passes. 

Our rent and day care costs for our younger brother were paid for the month. We needed to come up with $350 dollars for utilities and $110 a week for groceries.

The simulation took us through a month of life experiences in trying to keep a roof over our heads, utilities turned on and food on the table. 

Our 21-year-old brother, thrust into the real world, quickly had to give up his plans for furthering his education. He would now spend his days standing in line at various government agencies trying to sign up for relief funds. 

Long lines and unmet needs quickly caused frustration. Overly consumed with the heavy lift of responsibilities, our brother forgot to pick up our little brother at day care, which caused a need for social services and the police to step in.

A feeling of helplessness was enhanced when we were handed a card that informed us our car had been broken into and all our identification and money had been stolen. 

Without proper identification, EBT cards, fuel assistance and any opportunity to cash in on the title of our vehicle for living expenses were out of the question. There were no available agencies during our fictional experience that could help us reclaim our identities. 

We quickly realized our valuables were worth much less than we thought in the eyes of the pawnbroker. Many items he didn't even want.

We were only able to pay a portion of our utility bills and had only enough money to purchase groceries one time during the month. 

We were able to keep a roof over our head but the next month's rent, unpaid utilities and day care cost were looming over our family's head. 

Small details, such as extra cash needed for school activities, were out of the question. 

That disappointment alone made me realize how far a cash donation gifted to a school classroom could go to lift the burden, shame and disappointment a child might experience when they are handed a piece of paper that requires $3 dollars the following day for a special event. 

What can we do?

Those spearheading the program stressed, "We are not here to solve poverty. We are not here to feel sorry for. We are here to make a human connection with our neighbors, friends and co-workers who are experiencing hardship." 

Family's Helping Hand organizers left participants with these five suggestions:

• Commit - Make a promise to take action and make a difference in the lives of those individuals who are experiencing poverty. Not just an hour but every day.

• Educate - The first step in helping end poverty is talking about poverty. 

• Write letters and e-mails - Alert government officials about the need for policies and programs that can improve the lives of low-income individuals. 

• Socialize - Make it a habit to meet with people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Socializing with people at different economic levels helps us to develop sensitivity to their needs. 

For additional information or volunteer opportunities contact the Family Resource Center at (563) 252-3215.

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