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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Poverty comes to class

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The "Duntlys" contemplate their family's poor financial situation in a poverty situation held for local educators last week at Harris Middle School. From left, Lori Christie, Bret Lawrence and James Gross made up the Duntly family.
(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler) [Order this photo]
Doris Duntly, a 30-year-old mother of two, was recently deserted by her husband. He left her with $10 in cash and nothing in the bank. Before abandoning the family, he incurred a lot of debt that Doris has been forced to tackle.

Doris dropped out of high school 15 years ago during her first pregnancy and is struggling to keep a roof over her family's head. She shares her small apartment in a low-income neighborhood with her two teenagers, one struggles with drug use and the other lacks motivation.

Just an example

Volunteers, including Mary Pylant, served as agencies on which the families could call for assistance. Pylant ran the mock food bank.
(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
Her grim situation may have been made up for a poverty simulation, held Friday for Bedford County teachers, but program administrator Whitney Danhof says it's reflective of the truths many local families face each day.

"Today, we are going to see what it's like to live in poverty," said Danhof, a University of Tennessee extension agent, as she welcomed local educators. "This is a real problem for our county ... The purpose of this program is to motivate us to get involved in ways to help."

About 12,000 Bedford County individuals are on food stamps and about 25 percent of local families live at the poverty level, she said.

How it feels

The program, which she has administered several times over the years, is designed to show people what it is like to live in poverty and the stresses and challenges that families face.

Participants were divided into families and given a scenario (some were newly unemployed, some were already receiving some public assistance, some were living on Social Security).

"A child who's hungry cries; an adult with no job gets irritable," she said. "I want you to approach this as if you are in this situation.

Month's survival

The simulation broke down the month into four 15-minute weeks. The families had to provide for their basic needs such as housing and food, pay off debts, care for children, find transportation, find employment, apply for benefits, etc.

Around the edge of the room were various agencies (staffed by volunteers) that families could approach for assistance, including Quick Cash, a mortgage company, utility companies, a food pantry, etc.

The simulation started by each family evaluating their circumstances and it didn't take long for Lori Christie (a.k.a. Doris Duntly) to realize the severity of her mock family's situation.

Several local educators attended the simulation, which served as a way to shed light on the harsh realities many families face.
(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
"Well, the first step is for us to look at our bills and see where we can cut," she said.

More empathy

The program concluded with discussion about what happened to each family during the month. Were they better off or worse off? What were some of the good things that happened and the not so good things? How did each family member feel? What were some of the challenges and barriers?

The goal is to make the experience impact each educators' interaction with youth in their classrooms who live in low-income households.

"The (program was) an eye-opening experience for those who (went) through it," Danhof said.