Simulation helps parishioners understand the daily struggles of families living in poverty

by Sandra Engelland

North Texas Catholic

March 4, 2020

hands counting fake moneyhands counting fake money
Catholic Charities Fort Worth, GRACE and TXU Energy sponsor a poverty simulation at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Saturday, February 29, 2020. Participants, who are assigned families, identities, and back stories, are given limited resources to navigate simulated life situations. (NTC/Rodger Mallison) Check out the photo gallery.


COLLEYVILLE — A young man just released from prison is sleeping in a homeless shelter because he can’t find a place to live. A single mom of three is just barely getting by when her car is stolen. Another parent can’t go to work because he can’t afford childcare, on top of all the other family expenses.

These are just a few of the stories that parishioners from Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville experienced for themselves when they participated in a poverty simulation Feb. 29 to help them understand the challenges of those in dire financial need.

Parishioners who attended the event said the experience was eye opening.

“I’m amazed at the frustrations and challenges that people struggle with on a daily basis,” said Katie O’Donnell.

Amy Venezio said, “I’m learning that people without money get penalized more than people with money.”

For instance, if you didn’t have a bank account, you had to pay extra to cash a check. And going to a payday lender would cost you a fee plus a big interest rate.

Parishioner Larry Allen holds his "baby" in his lap as he counts his resoureces during the Catholic Charities Fort Worth Poverty Simulation at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Saturday, February 29, 2020. (NTC/Rodger Mallison)
Parishioner Larry Allen holds his "baby" in his lap as he counts his resources during the Catholic Charities Fort Worth Poverty Simulation at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Saturday, February 29, 2020. (NTC/Rodger Mallison)

Mark Clifford said that he realized how precarious life was for many of those who don’t earn enough to support their families. When an unexpected expense arises, they may be forced to sell some of their belongings at a pawn shop for much less than the items are worth.

“You have to sell it right then because you need to have cash for food,” Clifford said.

A group of high school students also took part.

Kayla Gollihar, high school youth minister, said, “I think we’re super passionate about them trying to understand what’s going on beyond our four walls.”

The poverty simulation was conducted by a team from TXU Energy’s customer advocacy department using a program developed by the Missouri Community Action Network. Those who attended were divided into family groups and given an identity with all the details of background, income, and expenses.

Participants then had to role play and go through four weeks of going to work or school, seeking work if they were unemployed, paying bills, trying to get food stamps and other assistance. The adults waited in line for many of the services. There was a pawn shop and a dishonest payday loan lender, along with a bank and a grocery store. Family members could end up in jail or in the homeless shelter.

Kim Campbell, senior manager of customer advocacy for TXU Energy and the leader of the exercise, said that the idea is that “there’s more month than money” and participants had to decide which tradeoffs to make.

“It’s eye opening, and it changes your opinion about the choices families in need have to make each month,” Campbell said.

Kathy Guarino, coordinator of mission outreach ministries at Good Shepherd, said the goal of the simulation was for parishioners to empathize with those in poverty and be inspired to take positive action.

“God calls us all to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Guarino said.

Dannie Needham looks at his assigned identity name tag prior to the Catholic Charities Fort Worth Poverty Simulation at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Saturday, February 29, 2020. (NTC/Rodger Mallison)

Several members of the mission outreach committee participated in a poverty simulation at the TXU campus last summer before they brought the program to Good Shepherd.

Lisa Goodwin, one of those committee members, said, “I just feel that, especially living in this area, you don’t have much experience dealing with those in poverty. You can’t really understand unless you’ve looked at what it’s like to walk in their shoes.”

The hope is that parishioners take this experience and decide to volunteer for a partner organization helping those in need, Guarino said.

Partner organizations at the event included Catholic Charities Fort Worth, the Mid-Cities Care Corps, and GRACE of Grapevine.

Michael Grace, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth and a Good Shepherd parishioner, participated in the simulation and spoke to those in attendance.

Grace said, “The stories you heard today are the things we deal with every day.”

He said that Catholic Charities’ mission is to serve those in need and call others to do the same. The vision is “to end poverty one family at a time.”

Most of their clients are the working poor who are living paycheck to paycheck. Catholic Charities Fort Worth can provide transportation, case management for employment coaching and budgeting, childcare, and strategic financial assistance.

Grace urged parishioners to donate and get involved as a volunteer. When you work with families in need, you can’t help but be changed.

“What you see and hear will transform you,” he said.

hands counting fake money

COLLEYVILLE — A young man just released from prison is sleeping in a homeless shelter because he can’t find a place to live.

Published (until 3/4/2032)
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