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Poverty simulation builds understanding, empathy

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ECU students Hannah Allen, Monica Mayefskie, Elizabeth Smith and Courtney Kirchner review details about their family roles during a recent a poverty simulation exercise.

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By ECU News Services

Sunday, March 10, 2019

More than 50 East Carolina University undergraduate students participated in a poverty simulation in February with the goal of increasing their understanding of the day-to-day realities faced by people with low incomes. Additionally, organizer Tamra Church, health education and promotion instructor in the College of Health and Human Performance, said she hopes they’ll be “motivated to become involved in activities that help reduce poverty in this country.”

The students, public health/pre-health or social work majors, spent the afternoon grouped in families, experiencing scenarios based on real experiences. A ballroom at the East Carolina Heart Institute became “Realville” with chairs grouped into family units. Tables lining the walls became a bank, a school, a pawnshop. And a local “criminal element” roamed the pathways, avoiding police patrols.

Some of the families were dealing with unemployment, incarceration and/or teen pregnancy while others were caring for elderly relatives, grandchildren or younger siblings. Several were living in a shelter.

During 15-minute-long “weeks,” they went to school or work, searched for employment and housing, paid bills, and sought needed services, from health care and child care to food shopping and social services, at stations staffed by nearly two dozen community volunteers.

Junior Hannah Allen and seniors Courtney Kirchner and Monica Mayefskie, all public health/pre-health majors, along with junior social work major Elizabeth Smith, made up the “Wescott” family, a married couple in their 50s caring for their two young grandchildren.

Their monthly income from Winona Wescott’s full-time job as a cashier and Warren Wescott’s disability benefit falls $25 short of their basic expenses. That’s before covering transportation costs, purchasing glasses for their granddaughter and paying small fees for school projects.

And it’s before something goes wrong. Difficulty with the mortgage payment meant there was no money for food one week. “I lied and told my teacher that I had an apple for breakfast because I didn’t want us to get taken away,” reported Mayefskie in her role as the Wescott’s 9-year-old granddaughter. School project fees also went unpaid. “It was embarrassing that we were the only ones who didn’t have our two dollars,” said Kirchner as their 7-year-old grandson.

In a debriefing discussion following the simulation, other students reported similar feelings. Common responses included feeling dismissed or like they were getting the runaround or fighting against unfair forces. One student said, “Our family didn’t eat through the whole simulation. And it wasn’t always a money thing — we just couldn’t get there (to the grocery store).”

“Poverty doesn’t always look like what you think it looks like,” said simulation volunteer Cathy Dixon, a family outreach staffer at the Pitt County Health Department. The simulation helps participants, who’ll likely serve families with low incomes, learn what to look for — and to fully see those in their care.

Health Symposium moves into the community

When Rev. Richard Joyner noticed a concerning trend of young people dying of chronic, preventable diseases in his small community of Conetoe, he went looking for solutions at the institutional level and came away with a lot of ideas. But he soon realized the things he learned at the various conventions he attended didn’t come with an instruction manual or a team ready to help make the changes his community so desperately needed.

Joyner — the speaker for the 15th annual Jean Mills Health Symposium — eventually found a solution, spearheading a summer camp project for children where they would plant a community garden while teaching about nutrition and subjects like applied math and science along the way. To get to the solution, he posed a question the symposium sought to answer: How do we bring the institutional-level knowledge of prevention and rehabilitation that is cultivated at places like ECU into the community, so that its citizens are able to benefit from it?

For the hosts of the event, bringing the symposium off campus and into the community was an important step. In its first 14 years, the event was held on campus and usually featured a nationally renowned leader in health care as its keynote speaker. But this year, the event’s hosts — ECU’s College of Allied Health Sciences, Department of Public Health and Medical & Health Sciences Foundation Inc. — brought the event to Greenville’s Cornerstone Church to encourage more community participation.

Before hearing Joyner’s story, attendees of the event had the opportunity to receive blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and glucose screenings from ECU students with faculty oversight. They also were able to get information on a variety of health care resources available from university and community organizations.

T-shirt proceeds benefit cancer, military programs

One of the largest contributions ever from ECU Dowdy Student Stores’ “cause” T-shirt sales was made in February to the ECU Distinguished Military Society to go toward scholarships and programs.

The ECU bookstore and its vendor, Perfect Promotions, presented a check for $7,250 raised through T-shirts sold for Military Appreciation Day in November. A portion of the sale of each T-shirt will be used for merit- and need-based scholarships.

Also last fall, #GoGold T-shirts were sold as a fundraising effort for Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Rainbow Services, managed by the ECU Brody School of Medicine Pediatrics Hematology and Oncology group, and Riley’s Army were the beneficiaries, each receiving a check for $2,886.

While a portion of the proceeds from each shirt sold was split between the two organizations, both agencies will be putting the funds toward sending patients to Camp Rainbow this summer. Camp Rainbow is a summer camping experience for children with cancer or hemophilia and their siblings and is one of the Rainbow Services programs. Riley’s Army offers services for pediatric cancer patients and their families in eastern North Carolina. According to Jacque Sauls, director of Rainbow Services, the cost to send one patient to camp is approximately $1,000.

ECU Dowdy Store Director Bryan Tuten, Associate Director Bob Walker, Merchandise Manager John Palmer and President of Sales for Perfect Promotions Stephen McFadden, an ECU alumnus, presented the checks to campus department representatives, board members, staff and volunteers. Jason Ussery, also an ECU alumnus, is a graphic designer at Perfect Promotions and has designed many T-shirts for the fundraisers.

Dowdy’s “cause tees” program has raised almost $70,000 for a variety of local charitable organizations over the past five years.

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