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Brittany Dernberger

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GVL / Archive Brittany Dernberger

Kara Haight

In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Commencement Week, one student advocacy group is combining forces with the Women’s Center and Access of West Michigan to make the hardships of living in poverty a little bit more tangible for students at Grand Valley State University.

The Women’s Center, home to GVSU’s Student Food Pantry, initially contacted the Hunger and Homelessness group with the idea for the event, helped develop the idea for the poverty simulation, and connected members to Access of West Michigan, a group whose mission statement includes “linking congregational, individual, and community resources to eliminate hunger and reduce the impact of poverty in Kent County.”

“The Women’s Center houses the Student Food Pantry, and we feel it’s important to educate our campus about the financial needs of students and others who do not have enough resources,” said Brittany Dernberger, assistant director of the Women’s Center.

She added that the date of the event, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was chosen specifically to honor King.

“In addition to racial equity, MLK addressed issue of economic inequality, and this is an opportunity to commemorate his important work,” she said.

The poverty simulation, which simulates life in a low-income family that is struggling financially, will take place today at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center’s room 2204.

uring the workshop, students will assume four different roles – some will be recently unemployed, disabled, senior citizens with Social Security and more – and will be asked to provide their families basic necessities and shelter in their current role.

“I definitely think this will be a fun, eye-opening experience for students to learn more about the reality of living in poverty,” said Lauren Nolan, a member of Hunger and Homelessness. “It is a simulation, not a game.”

Nolan said that as a student organization, Hunger and Homelessness is committed to bringing awareness to the homeless and their situation, and this year they wanted to make their volunteer work more accessible to students on campus.

“In the past, we have mostly volunteered with various non-profit organizations in Grand Rapids,” she said. “This year, we really wanted to work on campus as well, increasing awareness to GVSU. We thought this would be a great opportunity to have on campus.”

After their simulation will be a discussion to talk about the program, with an opportunity to speak to those who have experiences homelessness first-hand. Katelyn Winslow, president of Hunger and Homelessness, said she hopes it will help students challenge the misconceptions and social stigmas that often come alongside poverty and homelessness.

“These stereotypes normally come from people who have never spent time with the homeless or have never been in a household where food insecurity is a normal occurrence,” Winslow said. “This event will hopefully shed light on the realities of homelessness and give a new appreciation for the struggle many people face.”

Hunger and Homelessness meets in Kirkhof room 1142 every other Monday at 9:15 p.m.

“Beyond that understanding, we hope students will be motivated to take action about this important issue,” Dernberger said. “Whether it’s through volunteering or addressing some of the structural barriers that create inequality, I hope students leave the Poverty Simulation with a desire to make change in our community.”

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