What is it like to live without enough money to buy groceries for your family? Or pay for bus fare to get to the market? How do you find a job that provides a living wage? Or get to a job interview if you can't afford child care for your toddler? The new class of trainees from Iowa's LEND program encountered these issues and others, while participating in a poverty simulation to launch their training year. 

For the simulation, all trainees were assigned to a "family" that worked together through four 15-minute "weeks," with two-minute "weekend" breaks in between. During those weeks, parents went to work, if they had jobs and transportation to get to them. Kids went to school, if they had bus passes or hadn't been suspended. Families bought groceries and paid utility bills, if they had enough money. Some sought help at local service agencies. Toward the end of the simulation, when many had run out of money, family members visited the pawn shop to sell possessions, negotiating the best prices they could get. The simulation took just over an hour to complete, with the condensed time frame adding pressure for participants. The experience gave trainees a sense of the problems that families living in poverty may run into, and the frustration and even desperation, they may feel as they struggle to meet basic needs.

The poverty simulation was directed by Angeleah Whitlach, a social worker at the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD, Iowa's UCEDD) and LEND training director for social work. Members of the LEND faculty joined simulation families, and CDD staff also participated, acting as community members. Some worked at the public school, the social services agency, or the community health center, while others ran businesses like the local pawn shop and payday loan store. A robot accompanied a LEND staff member, which allowed the LEND trainee from Puerto Rico to participate virtually in the simulation.

After the event, LEND trainees and faculty met together to discuss the experience and consider how it might affect their future work. All agreed it was a moving way for this year's cohort of 27 trainees from 13 disciplines to begin the year. Questions about the poverty simulation may be directed to LEND staff member Julie Temple at [email protected].