Bridging the poverty gap: Poverty simulation showcases struggle of families in need |

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Bridging the poverty gap: Poverty simulation showcases struggle of families in need

Bridges Out of Poverty community action simulation

The community action poverty simulation, held March 6 in Steamboat Springs, is a hands-on seminar created by the Missouri Association for Community Action. Kits can be bought or provided to community action agencies, such as the Routt County Bridges Initiative, and can be used to educate anyone, from the wealthiest to those deeply impacted by poverty. Participants role play, taking on the personas of different family members who are living in poverty. The families are given extremely limited resources and are expected to live for a designated period of time within those means. Surrounding the families’ homes are booths set up as a social services office, a pawnshop, a food bank or a community health clinic. When the simulation concludes, families debrief and then share stories of their experiences, which is a “powerful and empowering” tool, Routt County Bridges Initiative Coordinator Libby Foster said.

Routt County Bridges Initiative and Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World

The Routt County Bridges Initiative seeks to provide a path for social change and stability. The program, which launched in 2011, provides employers, community organizations, social services agencies and, most of all, individuals the poverty educational tools they need.

The Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World program, an intensive weekslong class that focuses on a number of contributing factors behind poverty, is a popular course within the Bridges Initiative. This April will mark the beginning of the third year of the program. Each class in the 17-session, nine-week-long program will last about 2 1/2 hours, and participants will receive a $20 gift card for each class as compensation for their time. Dinner and child care will be provided at no cost.

The Bridges Initiative is a collaborative effort between LIFT-UP of Routt County, Routt County United Way and the Routt County Department of Human Services, and applications for the Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World class can be found at any of the three agencies. A letter of reference and self-assessment forms should be directed to Libby Foster, Routt County Bridges Initiative coordinator, P.O. Box 772790, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477. Foster also can be reached at 970-870-5228 or

Resources in Routt County

■ Routt County Department of Human Services Director Vickie Clark: 970-870-5274

■ LIFT-UP of Routt County main office: 970-870-0727

■ LIFT-UP Community Thrift Store: 970-871-9327

■ LIFT-UP Emergency Assistance and Food Bank: 970-870-8804

Routt County United Way: 970-879-5605

The Routt County Bridges Initiative received a community action poverty simulation kit last August. The kit — worth an estimated $3,000, Routt County Department of Human Services Director Vickie Clark said — contains myriad situations designed to place participants deep into the heart of poverty as part of a monthlong scenario.
Ben Ingersoll

— The Colorado Mountain College Allbright Auditorium offers one of the most spectacular views in Steamboat Springs, with sprawling vistas of downtown and Steamboat Ski Area as well as historic Howelsen Hill.

But on March 6, dozens of people from all backgrounds — teachers, human services professionals, politicians, students — paid little attention to the late-winter sun splashing through the auditorium's giant two-story windows.

Group members were busy shuffling around the room, begging for money and transportation passes and wondering how lingering medical bills were going to get paid. And don't forget about writing that rent check at the end of the month.

Some had their personal belongings robbed from their "homes." Others had to pull their children out of school just to help make ends meet.

Some laughed when it began, playing off Routt County's first poverty simulation as a game. Most were straight-faced when it was over, though, with a newfound understanding of just how difficult it can be to live at or below the poverty line, even if it was just a simulation.

For an hour, the 10 or so "families" lived a life teetering on the edge of the national poverty threshold as part of the Routt County Bridges Initiative's poverty simulation — a component of the group's annual framework workshop class.

Participants were given a very limited income and even worse odds of scraping by as they worked through the four 15-minute "weeks" that simulated what it's like to live in poverty for one whole month.