Penn State Berks poverty simulation teaches students about community need

Berks students participated in the poverty simulation
Credit: Katie Quinn

READING, Pa. — In an effort to help students understand the realities of poverty in the community, Penn State Berks held a Poverty Simulation on Wednesday, April 6, in the Perkins Student Center Multipurpose Room. This event was open to Penn State Berks students.

The following community service agencies and organizations participated in the event: Community Service for Children, Hope Rescue Mission, Literacy Council of Berks, Wee Talk Early Intervention and the YMCA. Health organizations include Jefferson Health; Penn State College of Medicine; Penn State Health Saint Joseph’s community healthcare workers, family medicine, and medical and dental residents; Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine; and St. Christopher's Hospital. In addition, Alvernia University’s Department of Nursing will participate.

This exercise was based on the Missouri Community Action Poverty Simulation, a learning tool created to help people understand the realities of poverty. It consisted of an experiential portion as well as a reflection debrief afterwards.

Students were tasked with providing for basic necessities and shelter on a limited budget during the course of four 15-minute periods. Each family tried to provide food, shelter and health care for themselves and their loved ones. During the simulation exercise, students role played as members of low-income families; some were Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients, some were disabled, and some were senior citizens who rely on social security. Students assumed the roles of staff members working at various human service agencies and organizations.

The simulation enabled students to look at poverty from a variety of angles and then to discuss the potential for change within their local communities. It was designed to sensitize those who frequently deal with low-income families, as well as to create a broader awareness of the realities of poverty among policymakers, community leaders, and others. It was a valuable learning experience for students as well as professionals. In addition, pre- and post-surveys on attitude and awareness were collected.

This event was sponsored by the Penn State Berks Center for Academic Community Engagement and Penn State Health Saint Joseph Hospital. For more information, contact Donna Chambers, coordinator of CACE, at [email protected] or 610-396-6332