By Emily Williams
Three local churches are teaming up with Alabama Possible, a statewide organization that works to help impoverished members of the community succeed, to participate in a Community Action Poverty Simulation.
Independent Presbyterian Church will host a simulation that educates participants on the struggles people living below the poverty line face every day. Canterbury United Methodist Church and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church are participating in the March 4 event.
According to Alabama Possible’s data, Alabama is the fourth-poorest state in the nation.
Heading up organization of the event, IPC’s Susan Clayton sees the simulation as an opportunity for members of the church congregation to develop a deeper understanding of the people who struggle with poverty.
“We are so grateful to Alabama Possible for providing us with the opportunity to ‘live into’ the experience of navigating the many obstacles faced by our neighbors who experience the reality of poverty on a daily basis,” she said.
During the typical two-hour simulation, participants are given identities of impoverished people with a variety of struggles that they must role play. Each 15-minute session represents a week in which the participants have a limited budget that they must stick to while interacting with human service agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers and others.
The simulation was designed by Alabama Possible to generate an awareness in participants of the realities that impoverished people face. The hope is that participants walk away understanding not only the financial struggles of poverty, but its emotional effects as well as the work it takes to escape the cycle of poverty.
“We walk alongside those living in neighborhoods of poverty, but we do not understand what it is like to live with these struggles and obstacles from the inside,” Clayton said.
More than 900,000 people in Birmingham live below the federal poverty line, according to Alabama Possible. At IPC, the congregation has a variety of opportunities to connect with less fortunate members of the community.
“We partner with many people living in two neighborhoods of poverty in Birmingham, North Avondale and Kingston,” Clayton said.
Through the church’s Stair and Summer Learning Program, church volunteers interact regularly with children of poverty who attend Hayes K-8 School, helping them reach educational goals. In addition, the church’s newest ministry, The Open Door, puts IPC staff and volunteers in the Kingston neighborhood four days a week to teach GED, adult literacy and ESOL courses.
“We walk alongside those living in neighborhoods of poverty, but we do not understand what it is like to live with these struggles and obstacles from the inside,” Clayton said. This simulation will give us the briefest taste of that reality and I hope it will strengthen our resolve individually and as a congregation to do all that we can to make a difference.”
Having coordinated a simulation last year, Canterbury’s director of outreach and missions, Rachel Estes, noted that the lessons learned through the simulation complement what churchgoers learn in church.
“We read the Gospel and serve others and can connect those two things well,” Estes said. “The poverty simulation allows, however briefly, a tiny window into a life that many of us have never lived – one that involves lack of transportation, long lines, scarcity that directly affects our children.”
As the Alabama Possible website states, “Poverty is not a game. It’s a reality for people in our own backyard.”
Both Clayton and Estes hope their church members who participate in the simulation are able to bridge the gap between recognizing poverty and understanding what it is like to live it.
“To step into those lives for 90 minutes brings an awareness, an understanding and a call to action more than I’ve ever seen,” Estes said. “You can become part of the solution if you have tiptoed in the problem, even temporarily.”
The simulation will take place from 9:30 a.m. to noon in IPC’s Highland Hall. Participation is free and open to all members of the community.
For more information or to register for the simulation, visit alabamapossible.org/events.