It was a Poverty Simulation our school district hosted. It was only for a morning. I was invited to attend as a community member along with school counselors and personnel from the district and some parents. I knew at the outset it would be stressful and that I would leave with an awareness I already had, that poverty was horrible. I even questioned why in the world I would attend such a thing when I could be going to yoga class instead.
I was shocked when the simulation began and I was assigned the role of a 9-year-old girl named Whitney. I assumed I would be a grown up, not a child. I lived with my younger brother who had some special needs and my 50 something year old grandparents who were raising us because our mom was incarcerated for drug use and our dad had disappeared. Grandma had a low paying job and Grandpa was disabled due to diabetes.
We spent the morning living out a month in the life of this family. My grandparents were totally obsessed with surviving; going to work; trying to access community services; getting food; paying bills. Periodically, life would happen and our family would be thrown a curve that sent us into even deeper crisis.
As a nine-year old big sister, I felt incredibly responsible for my little brother. At school, I was distracted worrying about my grandparents. I kept checking to see if Grandma was at work because if she wasn’t, we wouldn’t have food. My grandparents tried but they were so focused on surviving they could barely acknowledge my brother and myself.
At the end, my grandpa went to the doctor and learned his medication would cost $350 and there was absolutely no way we could afford it. The whole family settled into the devastating news that grandpa would probably die.
After the simulation, our family debriefed. We all felt stressed, out of control and couldn’t believe that our best efforts and planning did not help improved our family’s situation one bit. In fact, things got worse.
As eye-opening as it was about the terrible reality of poverty, I left with hope because of some of bright spots in place in our community. We have not solved poverty, a staggering 1 our of 4 students in our district live in poverty. But, we have created some light her; some let’s-just-do-something strategies which matter.
When I was a child living in poverty sitting at school worrying about my grandparents, if a mentor had shown up to visit with me, even once a week, it would have changed me. No one at home could afford to pay much attention to me. Here, we have a school based mentoring program overseen by Big Brothers Big Sisters to serve students just like me. http://www.gcisd-k-12.org (search Mentor) for an application. We have plenty of students in need, we just need more mentors.
When I was a child living in poverty, if I had been given a bag of food to eat over the weekend, it would have truly relieved pressure on my whole family. It would have reminded me that someone cared. We have that program here, which currently serves almost 1000 students in our district through the school year. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Weekend Food).
When I was a child living in poverty, if my family had a community agency that would visit with us and provide resources for clothing, food, medical care, holiday needs, a summer lunch time food option, it would have made all the difference. We have that here. http://www.gracegrapevine.org
When I was a child living in poverty if someone offered my family a hot meal, at a large table where we didn’t have to worry about the cost or the clean up, where we were treated like guests, we would have felt like we were less alone. We have that here. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Be Our Guest Meal).
When I was a child living in poverty, if there was a huge Back to School Fair where I could get school supplies, a backpack, countless community and school resources, all in a one-stop setting, we would have felt equipped and loved. We have that here. (search Facebook for Connect GCISD).
When I was a child living in poverty, if there had been an after school program for my brother and me, my grandparents would have had more time to oversee our home. Someone would be there to give us a snack, a hot meal, help with our homework and a place to belong. We have that here thanks to a partnership with our local police, school district and churches. http://www.grapevinetexas.gov (search Grapevine Community Outreach Center Vast).
Living in poverty was horrible. And I know, I really have no idea how horrible. But, at least there are bright spots here. At least there are places you can give, serve and work and know that you a bringing light to a child. At least there is that.