Guest post by Jeanna Olson, DCF Northwest Region community development administrator. Jeanna was one of 23 Franklin County social service employees and residents participating in the Bridges to Circles poverty simulation. Franklin’s Promise Coalition and Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida sponsored the poverty simulation program at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Apalachicola.
I recently got a personal view of what it is like to experience poverty. According to the 2010 Census, 25.6 percent of the people in Franklin County live in poverty, compared to 13.8 percent statewide.
The poverty simulation breaks participants into family units, and each participant is assigned an age and identity. As a family (we were a married couple with two children, ages two and ten), we were given a list of our bills, some items we could pawn or trade, a title to a car (our family had a car; however, we couldn’t afford gas most weeks and had to walk or purchase bus tickets) and identification. There were various stations set up representing different places and agencies we could utilize, such as a bank, grocery store, food pantry, pawn shop, police station, court and a social service agency.
The program is broken into 15-minute time blocks, each representing a full week. We had to “survive” on what was in our packet. There were scenarios we had to “live” that really made me think about the struggles our clients experience on a day-to-day basis, a day much longer than 15 minutes.
Our day usually began with me (I was working and my spouse was unemployed) rushing to purchase gas and get to work. I was late to work one week and my salary was docked. Week two, I did not make it to work because I had some unexpected bills and was trying to help my spouse get his necessary paperwork for a job he found. Weeks three and four, I had to get walking passes to get to work, because my work paychecks had to pay for the rent. In the end, we never did make it to the food market.
If you have an opportunity to participate in a poverty simulation, I recommend that you take that opportunity. It really opened my eyes to the struggles our clients and neighbors are living with every day.
Franklin’s Promise Coalition hosted the simulation to bring awareness to other community partners and solicit Allies for the next step of the Bridges to Circles program. An Ally is a person living in middle class or wealth who volunteers to be an “intentional friend” to someone working on his or her plan to break out of the cycle of poverty and who has completed the “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World” class. The goal is to create a mutually beneficial relationship with someone who is different from you so you can both grow and change and to help participants gain access to tools and resources to help them become self-sufficient.
Four individuals from the Bridges to Circles “Getting Ahead” class were at the poverty simulation. Each reported how much they appreciate the support and guidance they have found in the class and how they can work on their goals and get the support to reach them. Currently Franklin County has 27 individuals in the “Getting Ahead” class.
If you would like to participate in the Bridges to Circles program, please register at Volunteer Franklin.