Poverty simulation gives UNCP students valuable insight

Students participated in a poverty simulation at James A. Hall

UNC Pembroke students participated in a Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS) this week, offering them a greater understanding of the challenges faced by impoverished individuals.

Students roleplayed the lives of low-income families facing poverty––from single parents to homeless––and were tasked with providing necessities and shelter on a limited budget. Eight-six participants, comprised of prelicensure nursing and master’s level social work and counseling students, interacted with volunteers playing the roles of human service agencies, bill collectors, employers and law enforcement.

“You get a firsthand experience of how poverty affects families,” said senior nursing student Tony Gathings. “You don’t understand it until you have experienced it. This was no real comparison, but you get somewhat of a feeling of how difficult it is to navigate the system. We will be able to be that voice for them to help them find the resources they need.”

The two-hour event was facilitated by staff and faculty in the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing and the Department of Social Work. Event organizer Martha Hepler, assistant nursing professor and Clinical Learning Center coordinator, said the goal was to sensitize students to poverty. Meg Smith, OPTIMSE Rural NC Student Success Advocate, served as co-facilitator.

“Many of our students have experienced poverty, but for those who have not, we want them to understand the challenges that people living in poverty face every day. We want them to consider these challenges when providing services in the community, and, most importantly, we want them to advocate for those whose lives are impacted by poverty,” Hepler said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty in North Carolina impacts 12.8% of the population. It is particularly abundant in both Robeson and Scotland counties, with 27.9% and 24.4% of the people affected, respectively.

Elayna Locklear, an MSW student and a Children’s Health case manager, said the simulation was eye-opening.

“I think, so often if we have not experienced poverty, we have a narrow-minded focus of the struggles they face,” Locklear said. “The simulation helped put it in perspective.”