Area leaders get taste of living in poverty

On Monday, a “Cost of Poverty Experience” workshop was held at the Butler County Educational Service Center, and by the end of the role-playing session, some said they were frustrated by the long and slow-moving lines for services, the lack of money for groceries and prescriptions, and fear of eviction.

After some of them expressed their concerns, Karin VanZant, moderator of the event, said: “This is their lives every day. After two hours they don’t get to go back to work and your so called ‘normal’ life.”

The attendees were given new identities, real names of families living in poverty. During the sessions, VanZant - co-founder of Think Tank Inc. and CEO of the National Circles Campaign - encouraged the participants to “suspend reality,” to role play and “bring it into character.”

During four 12-minute sessions, which each represented one week, the group worked with the agencies that assist those living in poverty: day care centers, homeless shelters, grocery stores, human services, banks, the court system, pawn shops, adult probation, and police stations and jails.

Terrie Foster, who works for the Middletown health department, played the role of a husband and father of a 10-year-old son with ADHD. When the session ended, Foster said she understood how some fathers “look for an escape” and say, “There has to be a better world.”

During the sessions, Foster, who had a minimum-wage job, said she volunteered to work overtime and tried to make for a better life for her family, but still “felt like a failure.”

Greg Finke, principal of Independence Elementary School in West Chester Twp., played the role of the 10-year-old boy. After attending the session, he said he will be more understanding of his students’ needs.

“Sometimes,” he said, “that homework assignment may not be the most important thing in their life.”

Jennifer Withrow, co-director of missions at Faith Community United Methodist Church in West Chester, said she was surprised by the number of “barriers” society puts up that make obtaining services more difficult.

“We have to put a better system together,” she said.

Jeff Diver, executive director of Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families, said he participated years ago in a similar session and was “frustrated as heck.”

Those living in poverty, Diver said, are constantly told to plan for the future. But that’s impossible, he said, because they’re “only worried about making it through today.”

The event was sponsored and hosted by the CareSource Foundation, Think Tank Inc., Butler County Bridges Out of Poverty Coalition and SELF.

Contact this reporter at (513) 705-2842 or rmccrabb@coxohio.com.

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