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Last week we teamed up with New Era Cap to provide a poverty simulation to some of their staff. This simulation gave employees a firsthand opportunity to see what it would be like to live in poverty for one month. New Era invited employees from many different departments, so everyone could share what they learned with their colleagues.

When the employees first arrived, they had no idea what to expect. Even when the game first started, they weren’t really sure what they were supposed to do. They started off by meeting up in their “families” and were each given a different role to play – from hungry child to single parent.

Then the simulation started.

The thought of needing a bus pass every time they had to go somewhere, not having a bank account, getting evicted – all these things became very real. It took the staff a while to get into the game, but once they started understanding it all started coming together. As an outsider, I could watch the stress building in families as it was time to pay the bills, wait in line, or pay for their child’s school field trip.

Many of them didn’t even know they were allowed to ask for help – or where to go for it. They didn’t notice that they weren’t getting the most value for the little money they had, or that if they didn’t ask for a receipt there was no documentation that they had paid for anything, or they were being charged fees for cashing their pay checks. It seemed to be a real revelation for people who have had to worry about any of these things before.

Though this was a simulation for them, this is what life is really like for low-income families in Western New York. At the end of the simulation the employees were much more sensitive to the everyday challenges faced by low-income families, and had a much better understanding as to why it was important for them to help in any way they could.

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