Friday, May 5, 2017

Mentors Experience Poverty through Simulation Exercise

"What should I do? Where should we go?"

So asked one of the more than 60 members of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church (MDPC) who participated in a recent poverty simulation led by LaWanda Coffee, Spring Branch ISD’s director of federal and external funding.

MDPC is one of SBISD’s Good Neighbors, a network of area community members who pledge to and complete three or more strategic activities annually in support of the school system or the Spring Branch Education Foundation.

The poverty simulation, developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action, is a tool in a much larger national conversation about poverty and the very real challenges that families in many communities face. The simulation’s goals of building understanding, empathy, and action are common themes shared in the participant experience.

“Whether you see it as a struggle in your world on not, it does exist. As a district every campus has students that are economically disadvantaged,” said Coffee.  “We all have a responsibility to make our schools and our communities the best they can be.”

What does this understanding look like?

“Many myths about low income families, aid, social services and other stigmas are removed as a result of this experience,” said Coffee. “Participants leave with a desire to make change in their world and the world of those around them. They recognize and release stereotypes. They become part of the change that needs to happen.”

In addition to Coffee, other SBISD employees served in a variety of support roles for the simulation. The work, which is rooted in developing empathy and understanding, aligns with school district’s strategic plan under the umbrella of Family E3 (Education, Engagement and Empowerment).

Family E3’s vision is supporting a shared responsibility and commitment between schools, families, and the community to champion the success of Every Child.

The simulation at MDPC was one of the numerous actives taking place around the entire Spring Branch community that is bringing together diverse segments of the area population to facilitate learning, collaboration, and collective impact.

The simulation participants, or "families" as they were known, learned about the stresses and hurdles of living a month in poverty. They also learned that there is not a rule book or manual for surviving day-to-day without adequate funds for rent/mortgage payment, groceries, medicine and childcare, and how slippery the slope becomes once behind on payments.

Some shared comments from the simulation highlight a new, deeper understanding of the many challenges facing families in poverty:
  • "The bank needs more tellers, so the line will move faster."
  • "We paid our utility bill, but the payment was lost and we had to pay again."
  • "Our family thought we had more time to pay our mortgage. We missed the deadline and were evicted."
  • "We left our baby at home to go pay bills, and when we came back, she had been taken to a detention center by the police."
  • "We ran out of transportation passes, so we couldn't go pay the bills."
  • "I was an 85-year-old man living alone, and I felt very lonely. It made me realize we need to be more aware of seniors who don't have much contact with other people."
  • "If the budgets for social services are cut by state and federal budgets, what will happen to the people who depend on the help to survive? I worry about this."

Robin Helbing, MDPC Impact Mentoring Coordinator, was thrilled the mentors and church members got a feel for the struggles some of the mentees in SBISD have when living on the financial edge of poverty.

"Thank you so much for hosting the Poverty Simulation at MDPC,” Helbing said. “We thought it went fantastic and we received a positive response from everyone."

Helbing challenged participants to get involved with some of the church's ministries that directly support students and families in SBISD, to help begin to break the cycle of poverty. A committee was formed to begin a weekend food distribution project at an SBISD school. Others pledged to become mentors and tutors.

For more information how you can support the work of SBISD’s E3, or to learn more about the SBISD Good Neighbor Program, visit the provided links below.


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