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Learning to live without: United Way Poverty Simulation open to public for first time

Wealth in Red Wing is on the downslide and more people are living in poverty than ever before.

The city's struggle to recover from the 2007 recession was recently documented in the pages of the Red Wing 2017 Report Card, and city officials are still working to stimulate the local economy and reverse those trends.

But what about those living in poverty now whose fortunes may never change? How can the system improve to make services better for the working poor?

For the United Way's part, leaders are hoping education and empathy can help lead the way to meaningful change.

Since 2015, United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha & Pierce Counties has led a poverty simulation course for local leaders on what it takes to survive as a low income family.

"I'd say these have been very successful in that the vast majority of our attendees report during our follow-up surveys that they indeed have an increased sense of compassion, awareness and understanding for people living in poverty — and for us that's a major win," said Laura Sand Prink, the local United Way community impact manager.

Prink said that the national program, drafted by the Missouri Community Action Network, randomizes participants into families and puts them through the paces of living for a month in poverty. Participants spend "four weeks" (which are 15 minutes each) applying for programs, paying the bills and generally trying to make ends meet. The scenarios are modeled on real people's experiences and recreate the stress and worry of living on a limited income.

Participants have a chance to talk together after the simulation and process their experiences. For local partners, Prink added a second discussion session to help workers contextualize how their organizations are serving people well in poverty and reflect on what workers can do to change.

After conducting eight private courses with regional companies and government teams, United Way is ready to invite the public for the first time to participate through a new free Red Wing Community Education class.

They're looking for 35-88 participants and 20 volunteers to join the United Way Poverty Simulation on Saturday, April 14, 2018. Registration is free through Community Education; call 651-385-4565 to participate. Volunteers should contact Volunteer and donor relations manager Sarah Lindner at 651-388-6309 to assist with the event.

"Hopefully we'll get some of the people fired up and 'gosh I really want to help in this area," said Lindner. "There's so many ways to get involved and I'm hoping that people will want to jump in and do something."

If you go …

What: United Way Poverty Simulation

When: Saturday, April 14, 2018, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Where: Red Wing High School Courtyard Cafe

Cost: Free to register with Red Wing Community Education, call 651-385-4565

Volunteer: Call volunteer and donor relations manager Sarah Lindner at 651-388-6309