Guest Post: JLCU New Member Poverty Simulation

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JLCU’s 2016-2017 provisional class.

JLCU’s provisional (new member) class had a different meeting than usual in January. With the help of member volunteers, they participated in a poverty simulation from the United Way. Erin Tarr, one of our provisional members, shares her experience in the following guest blog post. 

Growing up, my parents made choices. Don’t get me wrong, we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads… but the practice of “floating checks” hoping they wouldn’t bounce, rarely filling up the gas tank – instead only putting in a few dollars in at a time, and using credit card checks to pay the minimum balance on other credit cards… were all commonplace practices.

We certainly qualified for free or reduced lunches, but didn’t ever utilize the program. Our idea of a “shopping spree” was a splurge at Wal-Mart, and “eating out” was a special treat at Pizza Hut since it was such a step up from the regular McDonald’s cuisine.

All this to say – I still don’t really know what it means to live in poverty. As a child and teen, I always felt that we were safe, and protected … even if we didn’t have money. We had support systems, dreams, and potential – there was never any doubt about that. In the past few years I have become much more aware of social justice issues surrounding people trapped in poverty cycles, who have neither money nor the support systems and safety/protection that  accompanied them for me as a child.

It was with this background that I entered the Poverty Simulation facilitated by United Way for our new member class at the beginning of January. For me, the entire evening was still surprisingly intense. As our group of provisional members filed into the room at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club and were assigned to family groups, our obstacles mounted quickly. In spite of my heavy heart for the activity, throughout the simulation (not game) I was able to be an active participant, keep things lighthearted and work with my “family” to make decisions to benefit us as a whole.

In the end however, we didn’t pay most of our bills, we had difficulty getting to school, and never purchased food. The reflection time turned out to be difficult for  me personally, as I attempted to keep my emotions separate from the realities of what many people face each day in Champaign County.
No, the simulation isn’t perfect, but I challenge you to go through it and not have your compassion and heart grow for those less fortunate in our society and world. The United Way website has information about how you can make this simulation a reality for other groups you are a part of.  If you have not had an opportunity to participate, I strongly encourage you to keep in touch with them about ways to be a part of it in the future, in order to further understand and empathize with the world outside our own personal bubbles, where Junior League can make an impact and a lasting difference in more ways than one.
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