Annual event shows how people live in poverty

The simulation kicked off Miami Hamilton’s annual STAY-Cation, where 10 students applied to spend their spring break — which started Monday — sleeping on the floor of Trinity Church, serving in local homeless shelters, and learning from nonprofits about food insecurity, joblessness, and the community resources that can be provided.

There are currently 49,753 Butler County residents living in poverty, according to statistics gathered by COPE organizer Think Tank Inc., a consulting firm for social issues.

The experience supplies participants with profiles of real individuals and families living in poverty, including their financial information, life assets, and basic bio, to simulate living in poverty for four weeks. Then they challenge them try to live four weeks as such a person — deciding whether to pay utilities or buy groceries with their pay or unemployment checks, avoid being robbed, and taking their children to wait in line for food stamps over spring break.

“This is a glimpse into consequences that impact these families every day of their lives,” said event coordinator Kevin Moss.

Donial Curry, a senior studying organizational leadership and nonprofit management at Miami Hamilton, participated in STAY-Cation 2011 and said it allowed her to ask leaders of local nonprofits about her own career path.

“It showed me that the need in the community was real, and that my career goals were attainable,” she said.

The Miami Hamilton Center for Civic Engagement, which organizes STAY-Cation and the COPE event, put a cap on the amount of participants for the first time this year, noting its growing interest since its beginning in 2009.

“We had capped COPE to 40 people, and it filled within the first two weeks,” said the center’s director, Sarah Woiteshek Pietzuch. She said the university created STAY-Cation to explore significant social issues in Butler County.

The post-simulation reflection session heard observations from students experiencing the work and stress a month in poverty entails for the first time and comments from participants for whom the day’s simulation was certainly more of a memory than a thought exercise.

“My mom had me at 16, she was a junior in high school and my dad was out of the picture,” said Miami Hamilton sophomore Ashley Rasnick. “(COPE) helped me relate to my mom … it made me wonder, did she have these resources?”

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