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NDSU program teaches real-life lessons on poverty

FARGO - Jeana Reed sat alone, a high school drop-out with a single mom, a pregnant girlfriend and a drug problem. Except the North Dakota State University junior is not, in fact, that person. She was one of about 60 students, faculty and staff wh...

FARGO – Jeana Reed sat alone, a high school drop-out with a single mom, a pregnant girlfriend and a drug problem.

Except the North Dakota State University junior is not, in fact, that person. She was one of about 60 students, faculty and staff who participated in a poverty simulation at NDSU on Wednesday afternoon.

Reed’s assigned character, 17-year-old Ed Epperman, was the one whose father deserted a family, clearing out their bank account and leaving them just $10.

“To think that this is how people live,” Reed said, as she watched her peers attend a mock public school in the Memorial Union ballroom. “If I was left with $10, I wouldn’t know what to do.”

The activity is a first for NDSU, and the doled-out circumstances come from real families who have gone to Community Action Agencies.

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“They modeled it down to the income they received,” organizer Hailey Goplen said of the Missouri Association for Community Action kit, which NDSU purchased with a Dakota Medical Foundation grant.

The activity required 20 volunteers manning stations such as social services, payday advance, a jail, a bank and a pawn shop. Play money gave it a live-action Monopoly vibe, but organizers emphasized this was not a game.

“This is reality for a lot of people in the United States and throughout the world,” Goplen said.

Although many were enjoying the activity, participants quickly realized the stress that comes with living below the line.

During the second round, sophomore Paige Geske, playing a 25-year-old male who has to provide for his 19-year-old girlfriend and their 1-year-old child, frantically recited payments she had to make: utilities, clothing, rent for a mobile home, food.

“We didn’t buy food last week,” Geske said, just realizing this fact. Then, with a note of frustration, “How come other families get money? We didn’t start with any money!”

Goplen said the activity, which drew mostly students, helps to correct assumptions many have about low-income families, and she hopes this leads to newfound awareness.

“A really important part of fighting poverty is being able to have an understanding of what it’s like,” she said. “Now, you may never fully understand it, but this gives you an immersive experience to simulate some of the challenges that people face.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Grace Lyden at (701) 241-5502

 

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