Area students learn about poverty

FARMINGTON — Most members of Washington County Teen Leadership probably don’t know firsthand about poverty.

The students were given a glimpse of what it’s like to live in poverty during a simulation held during their first meeting of the year.

Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce sponsors the county teen leadership program for students from Farmington, Lincoln, Prairie Grove, West Fork, Greenland and Elkins high schools. Students apply for the program, and five students from each school are selected to participate for the year.

Jill Abshier, director, said the program gives members a “backstage pass” into Northwest Arkansas. They are able to learn about different careers, education opportunities and are able to meet elected officials, community leaders and chief executive officers.

“It’s basically to let them have life experiences,” Ab-shire said.

This year, the group will meet monthly at Farmington Church of Christ and these all-day meetings will include speakers and tours of places, such as the Children’s Safety Center and the county detention center.

The meetings cover areas that include the judicial system, business and industries, media and arts, social services, and health and safety.

The University of Central Arkansas brought its Community Action Poverty Simulation for the first meeting to show how poverty impacts a family’s life.

Students were divided into family groups and each group received a profile sheet that gave the family income and told about issues facing their family. Some of the families had a baby or small child who needed childcare. Others were looking for a job. Some had a job and had to make sure to show up on time and clock in for work. Others didn’t have a car and had to depend on public transportation.

The groups were given several minutes to look over and discuss their profiles and then the rest of the time was divided into 15-minute increments, with each period representing one week.

During those periods, students had to go to different tables to take care of any needs. Needs included transportation, childcare, healthcare and social services. Another table represented a utility company and each family had to make sure to pay the monthly bill. In addition, another table represented a grocery store.

After the first 15-minute “week,” Emily Cooper Yates with UCA Outreach Center for Community and Economic Development asked students to raise their hands to show where they had gone. Not many raised their hand when she asked how many went to the grocery store. She reminded them, “You have to have food for your family.”

Jed Davis, principal of Prairie Grove High School, said the simulation helps teach students what it would be like in a poverty stricken household. For the simulation, Davis was acting as an employer. Students would fill out an application and then come back for an interview.

“It shows them how hard it is to make ends meet,” Davis said. “A lot of them think if they get a job, they can afford everything. This shows them it’s not as easy as they think.”

This is the fifth year for Washington County Teen Leadership. Sam’s Furniture is the presenting sponsor for the program.

Lynn Kutter may be reached by email at .