Navigating Rough Waters: Poverty Simulation

The poverty simulation…what a powerful experience! I cannot say enough about how thankful I am to the United Way. For one hour, I was able to see the world through my clients’ ‘lens’. I have seen changes in my practice, my approach, and my overall understanding of day to day struggles my girls go through. I never felt guilty for being upset or not understanding why a client couldn’t get to her doctor’s appointment, start her birth control, get her child vaccinated, pursue insurance, etc., but I do now. I learned the importance of value systems and the respect that I must always have for someone whose system differs from mine. Sometimes excuses aren’t excuses.

-Chester County Health Department Visiting Nurse
2014 Poverty Simulation Participant


The poverty simulation is an important interactive learning experience in Leadership Chester County’s curriculum. The simulation has afforded the opportunity to include not only LCC students and alumni, but United Way of Chester County volunteers and community partners.

In this interactive session, the LCC class and their guests experience first-hand many of the challenges facing low-income individuals as they struggle for financial stability using the systems designed to alleviate hardships.

Participants develop an understanding of the realities of living in poverty, how generational and individual cycles develop and the challenges faced to break out toward self-sufficiency.

The 2018 Poverty Simulation was held at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester on November 9, 2017, and was attended by 88 people from diverse backgrounds and interests, such as LCC participants representing for-profit and nonprofit organizations, Immaculata and WCU nursing and social work students, County employees, a pastor and other nonprofit service providers, Harcum College students, LCC graduates returning for the experience, and other community volunteers. St. Paul’s provided the facilities and setup while Chester County Department of Community Development loaned the required kit to do the Simulation.

Key takeaways from the 2-hour enactment, which was facilitated by Michael Givler, Ed.D., included that:

  • Employment was essential to manage family needs.
  • The UWCC Financial Stability Center made all the difference in navigating with limited resources.
  • Resource staff felt as much frustration with inexplicable rules, lack of resources and systemic issues as did their clients.
  • Resources couldn’t always be provided due to the behaviors of stressed clientele – not having enough information, not paying bills, being late for work, etc.
  • Families’ desperation increased as careful plans often were dissolved by unexpected events. Some even considered compromising personal values to get by.
  • In the daily struggles to survive, children were sometimes overlooked, unattended or placed in frustrating adult roles.
  • Families that worked as a team in problem solving were able to manage better.
  • Transportation proved to be a huge barrier to accessing services and meeting obligations at work and at home.
  • Time constraints increased the stress.