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GCC, SCSU and WCSU Poverty Simulation Explores Daily Struggles


Dealing with plumbing problems or car troubles are major annoyances for most people, but these challenges can derail the progress of those living in poverty.    

 On Thursday, April 11, students at Gateway Community College (GCC) got a first-hand look at what it is like to live on a low income during a “poverty simulation,” where participants role play the lives of struggling families.  Single parents trying to care for their children and senior citizens attempting to live on Social Security are just two of the many scenarios that can wreak havoc on family finances. 

The simulation, coordinated in partnership with Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) and Western Connecticut State University (WCSU), was intended to broaden awareness by demonstrating the challenges and barriers families face to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities while interacting with various community resources.  GCC Associate Professor Kim Shea, MSW, coordinator of human services, said that she has participated in several such simulations in the past and felt the experience would help raise awareness and empathy. 

At the start of the simulation, students were provided with a packet containing family scenarios outlining all sources of income and the expenses involved in keeping the household going.  GCC faculty, staff and administrators assumed the roles of various service providers, such as banker/loan collector, pawn broker, utility collector, teacher or Department of Children and Families worker.  “Luck of the Draw” cards might show found money or bad news, such as the need for plumbing repairs.  WCSU Assistant Professor Rebecca Wade-Rancourt helped groups gain an understanding of how to move through the activity.

SCSU Associate Professor Stephen Monroe Tomczak, assistant chairman of the social work department, explained that the experience would give students a greater understanding of what it is like to navigate the experience of those struggling to get by.  Statistics presented by Tomczak showed that 339,128 people in the state were classified as poor in 2017.  The same year, 39.7 million U.S. citizens were living in poverty. 

GCC President Paul Broadie II said that the simulation represents the challenges that some GCC students live each day and gives a glimpse into their lives and how they are impacted.

“Life can get in the way for our students,” he said. 

GCC student Eliza Fraser, a sophomore enrolled in Introduction to Human Services, said that the experience helped her to see life from a new perspective.

“I think it’s really powerful,” said Fraser.

Trevauhn West-Moody, playing the part of a 17-year-old high school dropout with a baby on the way, said that the scenarios were true to life and represented the panic that a person living that life would feel.   West-Moody, a student in two of Shea’s classes, said that his character was selling drugs to make money to support his family. 

“It is believable,” West-Moody said.  

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