Participants experience (simulated) poverty

URBANA — Capping off a weeklong commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr., a group of Champaign-Urbana residents spent several hours Friday learning firsthand the kind of struggles low-income families face.

Local government and University of Illinois officials, student leaders and other members of the community met at the UI's School of Social Work to participate in what's called a "poverty simulation." As part of the exercise, participants play the roles of a variety of people, including disabled citizens, senior citizens living on Social Security, and others. They receive play money and move throughout the room facing several challenges along the way, such as visiting a pawnbroker, going on a job interview, buying groceries for their family on a limited budget.

This type of poverty simulation has been held in Champaign-Urbana before, but it was the first time the event was included with the weeklong King celebration, said Christie Avgar, assistant dean at the School of Social Work and member of the King planning committee.

The theme for this year's MLK commemoration is "Honoring the Civil Rights Movement as the Struggle Continues: Empowering the Dream ... Make It Your Own." It has included a community breakfast, day of service, panel discussions and other events.

"We want to honor and highlight all he accomplished, but we also want to be cognizant that his work is nowhere near done. It's up to us to continue his work," she said, adding that King not only worked to advance the rights of black people but all underrepresented and disenfranchised people.

Avgar said the goal was to get participants to think about what they are going to do to move King's mission forward, "what can they do to fight poverty," whether it is volunteering at a food pantry, contacting a government official or another action.

About 35 participants from the area signed up for Friday's poverty simulation.

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