The Community Action Poverty Simulation as an Educational Resource

By Heidi Lucas | Posted on September 2, 2015

As park and recreation professionals it may be hard to connect the dots between services that you offer, “social equity” and the larger problem of “poverty.” Poverty is a complex, multi-faceted problem that covers a multitude of issues including food insecurity, employment, housing, education, transportation and other areas that impact low-income families.

For those who have not experienced poverty firsthand, it can be difficult to understand the challenges and barriers that families experience. There are many misconceptions about the nearly 46 million Americans that are living in poverty. It’s almost impossible for you to understand what it’s like to be poor in America — unless, of course, you are. 

In order to be effective advocates for those who use our programs (and for funding of those programs) it is important to build empathy and understanding. We also want to create a way to start a conversation about social equity


9.2.15_Poverty_Empty_PocketOne powerful educational tool that can be used to start those conversations is the Community Action Poverty Simulation. This tool is used to educate communities about the realities of living a month in poverty. During the simulation, participants role-play the lives of low-income families, from single parents caring for their children to senior citizens living on a fixed income. During the simulation the task of each family is to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities while interacting with various community resources and dealing with the day to day problems that arise when resources are limited. Although it uses role play and props, the simulation is not a game and is based on real family scenarios. This tool enables participants to view poverty from different viewpoints in an experiential setting. After the experience, individuals then have the opportunity to discuss what they’ve learned with their peers.

The Community Action Poverty Simulation is a profoundly moving experience which requires people to think about the interrelated aspects of poverty and identify strategies to address those issues in their community. Thousands of nonprofits, universities, businesses, hospitals and other organizations across the country are using this tool to engage communities to be part of the solution.  

To learn more about how you can use this unique tool in your community, you can participate in the poverty simulation at the 2015 NRPA Annual Conference or contact the Missouri Association for Community Action (MACA).  The conference session will offer 0.3 CEUs and will be limited to 88 participants. 

MACA is the statewide association of the 19 nonprofit Community Action Agencies in Missouri and part of the National Community Action Network. We provide the Community Action Poverty Simulation nationwide.


Heidi Lucas is the Project Manager for the Missouri Association for Community Action and a Certified Community Action Professional. She will lead the Community Action Poverty Simulation at the 2015 NRPA Annual Conference.