September 1, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
82°F

Community leaders experience simulated poverty

Attorney Brian Kerns, playing unemployed father of three Charles Chen, seeks aid from the “social services” booth at a poverty simulation put on Wednesday by Leadership Medina County. As Chen, Kerns asked social services to help him find a job and to aid in providing health care for his children, played by three other participants. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

Attorney Brian Kerns, playing unemployed father of three Charles Chen, seeks aid from the “social services” booth at a poverty simulation put on Wednesday by Leadership Medina County. As Chen, Kerns asked social services to help him find a job and to aid in providing health care for his children, played by three other participants. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

While Charles and Cindy Chen struggled to keep their five-member family afloat, their 10-year-old son Carl was buying crystal meth from a drug dealer in their home.

That’s the scenario that played out Wednesday morning at a poverty simulation put on by Leadership Medina County, an organization that trains and educates community leaders.

Poverty is a growing problem in Medina County, which saw the percentage of residents living below the poverty line grow from 5.3 percent in 2008 to 7.7 percent in 2012, the latest year statistics are available from the Census Bureau.

Seville Village Councilwoman Leslie Miller reacts to finding that her "family," the Chens, has been evicted from their home. Miller was one of about 80 community leaders who participated in a poverty simulation put on by Leadership Medina County. Miller played Connie Chen, a pregnant 16-year-old girl living with her parents and two younger brothers. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

Seville Village Councilwoman Leslie Miller reacts to finding that her “family,” the Chens, has been evicted from their home. Miller was one of about 80 community leaders who participated in a poverty simulation put on by Leadership Medina County. Miller played Connie Chen, a pregnant 16-year-old girl living with her parents and two younger brothers. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

Nearly 60 percent of the total 13,245 county residents living below the poverty line in 2012 were between the ages of 18 and 64. About a third were children.

The simulation placed about 80 participants in small family units and assigned them a character — including salary, age, goals and challenges. Some played adults, while others played their children.

The object of the simulation was for the families — all of which had fallen on hard times and were seeking government aid — to find a way to stay afloat despite poverty.

The role play went on for more than an hour, with working poor adults forced to spend time at their jobs, far from their unemployed spouses — if they had spouses — who spent the time searching for jobs or trying to secure government aid.

To achieve their goals, families needed to get to and from tables around the room that served as locations, such as social services offices, work sites, utility companies, banks and grocery stores.

As in real life, families needed transportation and had to either think creatively or spend their limited cash to get to the places they needed to go.

Making things more complicated were moderators throwing curveballs at the families every 15 minutes — which constituted a week in the simulation — including getting evicted, debt collectors knocking at their doors and teachers requesting field trip money.

Medina County Probate Court Magistrate Sue Lewis, who played a hospital receptionist named Cindy Chen, said the hardest part of the simulation was keeping an eye on the kids while waiting in line at the bank and grocery store.

“I was so concerned with trying to get by and running from here to there. I ended up paying absolutely no attention to my kids’ needs,” she said. “There was a dealer coming into our home to sell drugs and I didn’t even know.”

Attorney Brian Kerns, who played an unemployed computer programmer named Charles Chen, spent most of the simulation trying to land a job. Overall, he said he thought his family fared well.

“We survived,” he said, “if even at the most basic of levels.”

Seville Councilwoman Leslie Miller, who played the Chens’ pregnant 16-year-old daughter, said transportation was the hardest part.

“You take it for granted,” Miller said. “But if you can’t get from Point A to Point B, you’ve got nothing.”

The Chens’ other children, 10-year-old Carl and 8-year-old Chad, were played by treasury management officer Jarrod Long and certified public accountant Ted Klimczak.

Colleen Rice, executive director of Leadership Medina County, said the event Wednesday was the third poverty simulation the organization has put on. She said it’s important because it spreads awareness to community leaders about what it’s like to struggle week to week.

“Sometimes we have these perceptions about poverty,” Rice said, “but this gives people a different perspective.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.

MEDINA COUNTY RESIDENTS IN POVERTY

Under 18: 4,353
18 to 64: 7,815
65 and older: 1,077
Total*: 13,245

*Total number of residents for whom poverty status is determined.

SOURCE: Census Bureau’s American Community Survey