Participants in the program at Camp Meriwether were assigned roles as members of a low income family and had to use play money to try making ends meet for a month while contending with bills, fees and more, The Newnan Times-Herald reported Sunday.
The program was sponsored by the Meriwether County Chamber of Commerce, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and Meriwether County Family Connection. It showed how different issues — including inadequate public transportation systems, federal budget cuts to some programs, and families being unaware of which agencies could offer help — could combine to make a bad situation far worse.
Participants said the problems quickly piled up, leaving them overwhelmed and unsure of their next move.
Executive Director of Meriwether Family Connection Jennifer Corcione said she often encounters people who are so overwhelmed by the amount of things they need help with, they become frantic and can’t fully articulate what kind of help they’re looking for.
“They are in a tailspin,” she said. “They come, and they just know they need something.”
While it was appreciated, help from volunteers posing as social service agencies wasn’t enough to make ends meet, government offices in the simulation were closed because of furlough days, late bills carried penalty fees but participants could always take out a payday loan — if they were willing to pay the high interest.
The issue of poverty extends well beyond the families that are most directly impacted by it, organizer said.
“Just because we might not be in poverty, it doesn’t mean poverty isn’t our problem. It affects all of us,” said Carolyn McKinley, executive director of the Meriwether County Chamber.
“When people are living in poverty, your whole life is concerned with survival. There is no time for nurture — for talking about how you did in school,” she said. “Once you’re in the poverty cycle, it is so hard to get out of it.”
Some participants said they were surprised to learn how difficult it could be to overcome poverty without an education.
“Without a high school diploma you can’t really do anything,” Stephanie Mahone said.
While the relationship between education and income may be obvious to some, McKinley said it’s sometimes not as clear to people from families or areas where low levels of educational attainment are commonplace.