In an effort to help understand what life is like for those living in poverty, the Westerville Area Resource Ministry and IMPACT Community Action are staging a "poverty simulator."
The poverty simulator comes in commemoration of National Community Action Month and gives participants a window into "the struggles of low-income families and individuals who are trying to survive from month to month."
The event will be held 3 to 6 p.m. May 10 at Westerville North High School, 950 County Line Road.
For WARM executive director Scott Marier, the event is the kind of experience he's looking for.
"It's a powerful experiential learning session that puts you in positions and situations to be able to personally experience the difference in everyday decisions you face when suffering from the effects of poverty," he said.
"Our goal is to help raise awareness to that issue and help people experience it a little bit to have a better or deeper understanding."
Robert Chilton, CEO of IMPACT, said in a release that the program comes as a response to a "steady increase in the 'working poor' over the past few years" and a rise in necessary service provided by organizations like WARM.
"We're working with WARM and other local organizations to host this poverty simulation at Westerville North with the hopes of educating this community," he said, "including its high school students, college students, senior citizens and other residents who may be unfamiliar with poverty about the real-world experiences of low-income families and individuals."
In the poverty simulator, participants have four 15-minute sessions, each representing a week, where they simulate "real-life situations" experienced by those living in poverty.
The participants are given a role to play with experiences ranging from breadwinner to unemployed.
With the experience, Marier said the goal is to do more than simply tell people what poverty is like. Instead, he said, the experience of stepping into their shoes can be more of a learning tool.
"It's one thing to read about an issue of poverty, but it's a much more powerful learning if you can experience it," he said.
"So this is set up as a structured experience so that you can get really a live taste."
Marier said he experienced a poverty simulator years ago and had been hoping to bring something similar to WARM since.
So when he heard from IMPACT, he said he was eager to be able to get involved.
His hope, he said, is that while fewer than 100 people likely will participate, they'll be able to spread the information they learned and the experience they had to the rest of the community.
"They're going to go home and tell their family and friends, 'Hey, I went through this thing, and it was a game-changer,' " he said. "I'm hoping, then, that there's a groundswell of people to say, 'Hey, would you guys do this again?' to even reach a broader audience."
Marier said he's hoping the event can remind residents that the suburbs are far from immune to poverty.
"Poverty is a growing issue in the suburbs, and Westerville is no exception to that," he said. "Poverty is migrating to the suburbs at a faster rate than it's growing in the city. ... So our goal is to continue to raise awareness when some people might traditionally think, 'Gee, there's no poor people in Westerville.' "
According to a 2016 report by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, between 2000 and 2013, the growth of suburban poverty in central Ohio was up 113.6 percent, which is the fastest growth in the state. At the same time, population growth in central Ohio suburbs increased 22.8 percent.
The simulator is free and open to the public. For more information, visit Impactca.org/povertysimulation.