Participants in the “Creating our Future Together” forum will be playing with fake money, a utility company and a jail this weekend, but they will not be sitting around a Monopoly board. Instead, they will be role-playing in the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” poverty simulation hosted by the Columbia/Boone County Community Partnership.
To the more than 13,000 Boone County residents the 2000 U.S. Census says are living at or below the federal poverty level, however, being poor is much more than a game.
The poverty simulation will give participants a chance to explore the realities of a low-income lifestyle. It is intended to create an atmosphere of awareness and sensitivity to the issues facing low-income families. Participants are divided into families of varying size and structure, including single-parent homes and those headed by grandparents, said Elaine West, the executive director of Missouri Association for Community Action.
Participants must function like a family for one “month,” or four 15-minute “weeks,” in which they struggle to pay rent, send children to school and file for welfare benefits. Low-income participants will assume other roles, too, offering services ranging from police officers, schools and hospitals to pawn brokers and utility providers.
“We work with a group of people we call the have-nots, the people struggling to meet their basic needs, and the haves, the people who have the means to provide for their families,” said Steven Tatlow, community involvement coordinator for the Community Partnership. “And in the simulation they interact through role reversal.”
Scheduled to be held from 2 to 5:30 p.m. today, the poverty simulation is part of a two-day conference with keynote speakers Elson Floyd and Vicky Riback Wilson and additional sessions such as “Lobby Your Legislators,” “The Youth Empowerment Project” and “Real Time Community Change.”
“We’re going to see if we can get different people involved in the community to sit down and look at the needs of the community and see what the partnership should be doing,” said Boone County Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre, the county’s liaison to the Community Partnership.
Judy Baker, a Democratic candidate for 25th District state representative, plans to attend the conference to touch base with community leaders and learn what issues concern them.
“The whole conference is designed around networking the community organizations and accelerating collaboration, which I consider a worthy, worthy goal,” Baker said.
Also among the 100 guests expected at the conference are Mike Shirk, CEO of Boone Hospital Center; Mike Middleton, MU vice chancellor; Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce; and Chuck Headley, president of the Columbia Board of Education.