Belinda Gutwein works with poverty-stricken families every day through her job. But participating in Purdue Extension’s poverty simulation program gave her a whole new understanding of those she serves.
The program helps policymakers, community leaders, and others understand the daily reality of poverty, which affects almost 800,000 Hoosiers. During the 2 1/2 to 3-hour experience, participants assume the roles of family members facing poverty. They interact with human service agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers, and others.
“It was gut-wrenching when I role-played a teenager and found I was really putting myself into the role,” says Gutwein, director of the Head Start Office at the Kankakee Iroquois Regional Planning Commission. “I was working at a grocery store, making change, and found myself thinking I only needed $50 to make rent. I thought about taking it.
“You especially get into a hopeless, helpless state when people are not nice to you,” she says. “When people are kind, you can deal with it.”
She was so impressed by the Purdue Extension Tippecanoe County simulation that she set up a poverty simulation experience for her staff in Monon, Ind. “It changed the sensitivity of our whole management staff.”