Shattering Stereotypes of Poverty


ST. LOUIS — When most people hear the word “poverty,” an image of a homeless man living on city streets comes to mind. Not many realize that poverty is not limited to certain areas. On Sunday, Dec. 2, the Keith Lovin Institute for Leadership and Values at Maryville University, along with Faith Beyond Walls, will host a Poverty Simulation to raise awareness about a social and economic condition that gripped 36.5 million people in the United States during 2006, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Steve DiSalvo, Maryville’s director of campus ministry and community service, co-teaches the Institute’s sophomore class. “We wanted to make the class a more interactive experience,” said DiSalvo. “The topic for the month is social change so the poverty simulation goes right along with that.” Having worked on projects in the past with Faith Beyond Walls, whose mission is to bring people of different faiths together to interact and learn, DiSalvo contacted them after hearing good remarks about the simulation.

This eye-opening experience uses role playing in four 15-minute sessions with each session representing one week in poverty. Some participants will play family members who must provide for their family while others will play community resource representatives such as social service workers. DiSalvo said University faculty and staff members and seniors in the Keith Lovin Institute have been invited to play the role of these representatives.

The simulation will allow participants to look at poverty from many different angles. Various situations will be included in the sessions to show that poverty exists in different degrees. “It is hard for some people to understand that even families with two full-time working parents can be living in poverty,” said DiSalvo. “Sometimes they may not make enough to live off of, but they make too much to receive financial help from the government.” This simulation will help participants recognize the need for change and ways in which they can assist in the change.

The event will conclude with the Institute’s seniors serving a typical meal eaten by families who live in poverty. According to DiSalvo, this might include a hot dog, a Hamburger Helper-type boxed meal, Kool-Aid and no dessert. “The meals are usually very low in nutrition,” he said. The typical cost of such a meal per person is $1.25, he added.

DiSalvo hopes many will attend the event. People connected with Faith Beyond Walls, including students from surrounding colleges, have been invited. “The more people, the more powerful the experience will be,” said DiSalvo, who hopes the simulation will not only prove educational but also motivational, prompting more people to get involved in their communities. The poverty simulation will be held in Maryville’s Buder Family Student Commons from 2-6 p.m., Dec. 2. For more information and to register, contact DiSalvo at or 314-529-9521.

Maryville University is a private institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,422 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers. Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.