These are the cards you drew. You’ve just come back from the service with PTSD. You don’t have a job. You’ve enrolled at the community college and you’re living with your aunt and uncle. He has a drug problem and lost his job. She cleans houses and is about ready to leave him. No one makes enough money to cover the basics: food, clothing, housing, and healthcare.
Those were the cards my “family” drew at the Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) a couple months ago. Four people from our office attended the experience hosted by the Goodwill Easter Seals.
The design of the training was that the 50 or so participants were divided into families. Their situations, needs, and income were printed on cards in an envelope. Each 15-minute "session" was a scramble to get the bills paid, find a job, go to school, etc. There were several community service tables like a grocery store, police station, welfare center and a pawn shop, set up to assist. The goal was for the families to make it through the month, or four sessions, without losing their home, going hungry or even going to jail. The real goal was to get as close to the experience of poverty as possible so the participants (many of whom work for local social agencies) could experience the challenges their clients may face regularly.
For me and my coworkers, it was eye-opening. Sparse resources forced us to explain ourselves and plead with the community service groups for help. The time limits put us in frustrating positions. One participant who lost their home and stayed at a shelter ended up having to wear a sticker with big red letters “Bed Bugs.” At times it seemed there was no way out. I even felt physically tense. A debriefing session followed the experience. We had the chance to share stories and reflect on our decisions. We related our experiences in the game to the problems many of us see each day with our own clients.
I would encourage anyone, not just those working with low-income individuals, to take part in a COPE session. It’s well-designed and will probably give you a new perspective on the panhandlers you may see at certain intersections in Lima.
Here's your chance to participate in COPE
There’s another training coming up Saturday at St. Mark’s Methodist Church. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m January 27, a re-entry edition of COPE will engage people in the struggles of those involved in the criminal justice system. To register call St. Mark’s at 419-222-3601.
http://www.limaohio.com/news/277546/st-marks-united-methodist-church-offers-cost-of-poverty-experience-event. (Note the date has changed to January 27 since the news article was published).