Learning about poverty in America through role playing


BERLIN — Quinella, 12 years old, was a special needs child, a middle child between two brothers, and daughter to a struggling single parent. In one month, she was a truant because her mother didn’t have money to send her to school, and when she did attend, her school had a water main break, sending her back home.

This could be a true story about poverty in the United States, but it’s not. Still, this simulation game impacted “Quinella,” or Jim Mills, the older gentlemen stepping into her shoes.

The “very powerful experience put a face on what people living in poverty deal with, and just the stress to get by day-to-day, week-to-week,” said Mills, a parishioner at Saint Rose of Lima in Haddon Heights

On Feb. 20, Mills and 47 others took part here at Saint Simon Stock Parish’s Poverty Simulation.

The morning program was “designed to help those who serve, or desire to serve the poor, understand what it might be to be part of a typical low-income family trying to survive from month-to-month,” said Deacon John Rich, a member of the parish’s Saint Vincent de Paul Society, and its Knights of Columbus council.

Saint Simon Stock’s Saint Vincent de Paul Society, its Knights of Columbus, and its peace and justice ministry sponsored the day’s events.

Patty Hughes, president of the Manhattan Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in New York, facilitated the simulation, which included participants grouped into low-income “families,” with segmented 15-minute “weeks” taking place as they learned the hardships of fighting to put a roof over their heads, food on the table, and shoes on their feet, amidst unexpected happenings such as illness, or death.

Around the families, in the school gym, were parish volunteers manning such stations as the welfare office, elementary school, juvenile detention, grocery store or health clinic.

A participating reporter played nine-year-old “Quentin,” Quinella’s brother, who began the month as a truant, returned to class to be sent home for the rest of the week because of a water main break and, in the fourth and final week, experienced an asthma attack.

“To see the single parent of our family just scrambling to try to squeak by for the month, paying the mortgage and other bills, and then put food on the table as well — I could feel the stress that the parent was dealing with, and how it would impact the children,” said Mills, a member of his parish’s Saint Vincent de Paul Society.

“Hopefully, this experience will help us minister to the poor, in a more meaningful way,” he said.