Cost of Poverty Experience expels myths through understanding


Wichita Circles Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families and individuals make the journey out of poverty. Circles is a community driven solution to addressing the underlying causes of poverty and supporting families with their efforts to reach and maintain economic stability. The Wichita Circles Network strives to build bridges between social classes in order to foster relationships that will help strengthen the Wichita community.

The Wichita Circles Network sponsored a Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) simulation this past weekend at West Heights United Methodist Church. Its purpose was to inspire and equip individuals and families in the community to resolve poverty. The simulation included a series of role-playing scenarios that gave participants the opportunity to learn about the realities of poverty and its effects. Each participant was assigned a new persona and family profile of an individual living in poverty.

“It’s an experience that many middle and upper class families have never experienced,” said Judy Castor, COPE event coordinator. “So its purpose is to help us bridge that gap and to provide understanding.”

The power of this unique simulation was that it generated real insight into the difficulties and life barriers that low-income families endure daily.

“There are a lot of myths about what people in poverty are like,” Castor said. “This event is to help erase those myths and broaden our understanding.”

Many of those in poverty do not have relationships with people in the middle class. Often times, people find success in their lives through their relationships. However, if someone doesn’t have relationships with people in the middle class to upper-middle class, it can be difficult to climb out of poverty. That’s where Wichita Circles comes in by helping people get out of poverty through relationships.

One of the ways this organization is able to cultivate these relationships is by assigning “allies” (people willing to build relationships to support those who are moving out of poverty) to individuals called “circle leaders,” who are trying to make the journey out of poverty. Individuals seeking to make this journey go through a 15-week class called “Getting Ahead”, that investigates the causes of poverty, the choices they’ve made and life’s systemic barriers. After completing the class, they have the option to make an 18-month commitment to pull themselves out of poverty.

Gail Biberstein, a Circles ally and lay leader at East Heights United Methodist Church, said that before circle leaders are paired with allies, they each have a chance to meet with one another in order to provide the circle leader an opportunity to see which allies they would like to work with.

“The point is to gather around the table to visit and become good friends through food and fellowship, Biberstein said. “A lot of the real positive work is done through breaking bread together.”

During the 18-month program, circle leaders meet with their allies at least once a week in order to meet and set new goals. The role of an ally is mostly to be a friend, and to support them in making those changes. They can do this by listening, collaborating, and introducing them to individuals in the community that can help them reach their goals.

Allison Celik, city-wide coordinator for Wichita Circles Network, said that the goal of Circles is to build strong communities. If you have a thriving community, it means you have a group of people that know each other and support each other.

“In order to have that, you have to set up a structure where people get to know other people that aren’t like them,” Celik said. “Part of this COPE simulation is sharing the experiences of living in a different economic class so that you can increase your understanding.”

Watch this video to learn how and why Julie volunteers her time for Wichita Circles Network.

Story and photos by Marcus Wright, intern for communications at the Great Plains Conference
Video from Wichita Circles Network

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