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 experienced 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 2019 Poverty Simulation was held at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester on November 7, and was attended by the LCC class and guests from diverse backgrounds and interests, such as universities, nonprofits, businesses and government. St. Paul’s provided the facilities and setup while Chester County Department of Community Development staff facilitated the Simulation.

Key takeaways for participants included broadened perspectives on living on a low income, including:

  • The daily decisions and choices to be made in poverty are difficult, and people who are alone feel the stress more keenly than those with family support.
  • Pressure to get the essentials without resources may draw some toward illegal activity.
  • There is a cycle to poverty – and despite thinking ahead, struggling individuals are pulled away from achieving their goals in an effort to meet their basic needs.
  • Having a background that prepares for integration into the workforce is essential to pulling out of poverty: education and training, language skills, family resources.
  • Social service providers may be frustrated even as they work to help, as lack of resources or the inability of clients to meet requirements can hinder their efforts.