You wouldn't be alone if you had never heard of the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County. The CAA, which has been going strong since 1968, has a focus of ending poverty and aiding families stuck in the cycle of poverty. As the website states, they offer "services... to 22,000 low-income people in St. Louis County annually." Their programs and services include counseling, emergency/immediate services such as a food pantry, employment development, energy services, housing assistance, family support, and life skills. Additionally, programs even be can be found for parolees and gang prevention. Most interestingly (and uniquely), however, is a specific program they offer to those who are NOT in poverty. Perhaps those who may not understand or appreciate the realities of suffering that poverty engulfs one in.
They ask you to Step inside Poverty...and experience a month in the life of poverty. The CAA offers its very own Poverty Simulation called CAPS (Community Action Poverty Simulation), or "a unique opportunity to help the community understand what life is like with a shortage of money and a abundance of stress." The four week 'educational' program, which aims to help others understand what thousands of St. Louis families regularly experience, is a role playing experience that hopes to encourage others to take action to make a difference.
"Using a simulation kit, participants role-play in the lives of low income families. Family scenarios are given out to groups who participate and each family is given time to seek services and support, obtain financial assistance and simply decide how to spend what little money the family has in order to survive."
CAPS stresses that it is not a game, and caters its program to organizations, schools, churches, and government officials.
Participators in Topeka Kansas described the simulation as "eye opening", that it "changed my preconceived notions about low income families. I now have an understanding of life for families living in poverty". One individual stated that the "simulation structure quickly creates a real feeling of anxiety and a sense of urgency to get things under control".
Of course, participators are able to leave their make-believe world at the end of the simulation and head back to their own lives. One can't help but wonder...can they really suddenly understand poverty? How might a person living in poverty feel about a simulation training that mimics the realities of their daily life? Would experiencing a make-believe simulation give you a greater understanding about poverty? Might it move you to take action? And might it move you more-so than the daily newscasts depicting the lives and struggles of real individuals with faces, names and families?
If not at least potentially offensive to some, the 'simulation' of poverty is most certainty a privileged one.