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Connellsville area poverty simulation opens people's eyes

Mark Hofmann | Trib Total Media
Donna Kopitsky (left), minister of Unity of Connellsville Church, volunteers in the role of a community services employee during the Cost Of Poverty Experience, a poverty simulation exercise. Cris McDonough, an administrative assistant with Community Ministries, plays the role of an elderly lady living in poverty.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 12:51 a.m.

Nearly 20 people involved in the mission to care for those less fortunate and also a couple of local leaders had the chance to experience what it felt like to live a month in poverty.

Connellsville Area Community Ministries, the Salvation Army and St. Vincent DePaul brought the Cost Of Poverty Experience (COPE) to the Otterbein United Methodist Church this week.

Members of Circles USA out of Springfield, Ohio, an organization that brings resources together to get people out of poverty, presented COPE to those involved with Community Ministries along with other interested parties including A.J. Boni, a candidate for state representative, and Greg Lincoln, mayor of Connellsville.

Lincoln, Boni and the others were separated into groups representing different families. Each participant played a different person in the family, ranging from the young to the elderly. Every family went through a scenario with work situations, money situations and other situations.

The participants had to live a month as that family with 15 minutes of their time representing a week. They physically moved to different stations in the room, which included community services, a gas station, pawn shop, bank, probation, police department, health clinic, school, megamart, minimum-wage job, day care center, homeless shelter and more.

Chip Rowan, executive director with Connellsville Area Community Ministries, said the COPE event will allow people in the community and those who volunteer with the ministries and deal with people suffering with poverty a chance to walk in their shoes.

“I'm told this is something that will stick with you, and you will have a better understanding of how people live in poverty,” Rowan said.

The COPE scenarios were developed in part by Karin VanZant, executive director of Think Tank Inc., an organization that unites entities to battle social issues.

“This is a real dose of what it's like to live this kind of life,” VanZant said.

VanZant knows from personal experience, she said.

She experienced poverty while attending college, took four years to get out of that, and the scenarios and people the participants were portraying were actual clients of VanZant.

“So while you're role-playing their lives, keep in mind they're real,” VanZant said, adding that in her years of doing such work she has seen many compassionate people who wanted to help but had no clue what they were getting into.

Lincoln said the poverty simulation was an eye-opening experience.

“Trying to complete basic tasks like paying rent, utilities, buying food for the family, finding enough money to buy gas for the car was a very difficult experience,” Lincoln said. “The unfortunate reality is there are lots of families in our community that go through this on a daily basis.”

Lincoln said Connellsville is fortunate to have the Circles program coming to the city as an effective way to fight poverty head-on; the program will be working with 12 families in the area.

Rowan said that group was the pilot group in what he hopes will be many future sessions.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or

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