Simulation event to give students and community members a glimpse into living in poverty

Area residents are invited to learn more about low economic situations faced by many families living in our communities during a poverty simulation hosted by Hesston College and Circles of Hope of Harvey County and sponsored through a grant from the Hesston Community Foundation. The event will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m., Monday, March 28, at the Hesston Mennonite Church Community Center on the Hesston College campus, 309 S. Main.

The event is free to attend, but reservations are encouraged by calling 316-284-0000 or emailing

The poverty simulation places participants into family groups who, through guided role-play, fast-forward through a month in the life of a family living in poverty. The end of the experience includes discussions about participants’ experiences with a new reality and ways they can help raise awareness and create solutions.

Jennifer Rose, executive director of Peace Connections which operates the Circles of Hope program, says that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau with numbers based on the Federal Poverty Guidelines, Harvey County has a poverty rate of 12.8 percent, which equals 4,457 individuals. The state of Kansas has a 13.8 percent poverty rate while the city of Newton alone has a 17.3 percent poverty rate.

Federal Poverty Guidelines stem primarily from the cost of food. The Circles model, on the other hand, considers living wages and what is needed to live in reasonable comfort, including putting food on the table, paying for transportation, childcare, healthcare costs and even some entertainment for the family.

“Based on Circles numbers, we often say that it requires up to twice what the Federal Poverty Guidelines indicate,” said Rose. “It usually means that at least twice the number of people identified by the census are actually living in poverty.”

For Hesston College organizer and education faculty member Tami Keim, the poverty simulation is a useful way to help students in education and the social sciences, especially, understand situations and families with whom they may work in their future careers.

“As they move into the professional world, students will work with people from a wide variety of socioeconomic statuses,” said Keim. “This event helps us better understand and develop empathy for people living in poverty. That kind of understanding makes students better teachers and social scientists.”
Hesston College first hosted a poverty simulation with Circles of Hope in 2013, and Keim notes that it was a time of learning and growing for many students.

“For most students, that level of poverty is a new experience, but it’s the reality for so many Americans,” Keim said. “We want our students to be equipped to help any person or situation that comes their way.”