CWU News

CWU Poverty Simulation Provides Students and Community Unique Insight

Central Washington University professor Sarah Feeney, builds on her classroom instruction by providing her students and the community a hands-on lesson in poverty. 

Poverty Simulation

Community volunteers and students will spend this Saturday, January 28 participating in CWU’s 4th Annual Poverty Simulation from 1-4 p.m. in the SURC Ballroom. This year’s theme will focus on timely relevant local issues, including hunger among college students and affordable housing in the community.

Feeney, who teaches in the department of Family and Child Life, organizes this event as part of a class, but believes that the simulation is beneficial to all college students. The event raises awareness of low income families and the challenges they face. It’s a deep dive for many who’ve never personally experienced living below the poverty line.
“There are all types of family structures and situations, and it’s designed to be representative of the actual low-income population which is, of course, diverse,” said Feeney.

Families in Kittitas County are among those who face challenges making ends meet. A community assessment conducted by HopeSource, in 2014, determined that a minimum wage worker with two kids living in Kittitas County would have to work about 69 hours per week in order to afford a normal, two-bedroom home with a $650 monthly rental rate. Moreover, 1,001 households living below the poverty line were in need of affordable housing.

The simulation consists of two roles: family member or a resource station. Each family unit spends a month—four 15-minute weeks—experiencing everyday challenges.

Participants are randomly assigned to a family and given a scenario. Families range from single college students or elderly couples to families with two parents and five children. They are instructed to use their limited resources and those in the community to address their family’s needs. 

The resource stations, are agencies and businesses that low-income families rely on, such as employers, supermarkets, social services, food banks, schools, and hospitals.

Twenty community volunteers from various agencies in town and on campus typically play the role of resource stations. In the past, students have played the roles of families. However, this is the first year the opportunity is also being offered to community members.

“People serving in governmental roles have a lot of experience behind the scenes with … community services, so I think it’s a good opportunity to remind them what it’s like from a family perspective,” said Feeney. “Moreover, it’s a great way to connect the university with the community.”

Photo:  students participating in the 2016 Poverty Simulation exercise.

Media contact: Dawn Alford, public affairs coordinator, 509-963-1484,

--January 27, 2017