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DISABLED BY POVERTY

Participants act out roles during a United Way poverty training exercise at the Family Trust Federal Credit Union Operations Center in Rock Hill.
Participants act out roles during a United Way poverty training exercise at the Family Trust Federal Credit Union Operations Center in Rock Hill.

I am 9 years old, and I live with my grandmother and my grandfather, who is disabled.

They don't really have much time for us because they are always trying to work out problems. When I ask my grandfather what he is upset about, he says, "There's not enough communication in this family."

But I'm pretty sure they argue about money, because I heard my grandmother tell him, "If I go to the bank first thing in the morning I'll be late for work, and I've been late two days in a row."

I try to tell them my brother Zander doesn't have his medicine, but they are busy counting money. He is 7, and he has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.

I think they are glad when we go to school because they think the teacher will take care of us. They feed us at school, but no one pays any attention when I tell them Zander needs medicine.

My teacher, Miss Pettibon, is nice, but the children don't behave very well. I think I could be a good student if my grandfather helped me with my homework.

I made a friend in school. His name is Roland. He doesn't have a mother either, and he is very quiet. Then his brother stole some money, and Roland brought it to school to pay for our field trip to the zoo. Then he got in trouble, too.

We didn't have money for the field trip, either, and I really wanted to go. There is a rich girl at school who gave me $4. I'm going to pay her back some day.

I took it home and gave it to my grandfather. He said, "We really need this."

I don't think we have money for the field trip. My grandfather keeps saying we're going to be out on the streets if we don't pay the mean lady who came by last week.

I hope we'll still be home for Christmas.

I was one of about 30 people Tuesday who stepped into the shoes of a person living in poverty through a role-playing program, Missouri's Community Action Poverty Simulation.

Cheryl Spragg, a Family Trust senior loan officer, was my brother. Abe Senbel, who teaches English as a second language at Rosewood Elementary School, was my grandmother Zuppot, the only working member of a family whose monthly income totaled $1,846. Bills for our basic needs came to more than $1,500. That didn't include school supplies, school field trips and emergencies like a flat tire. Gabriela Talkington, a Family Trust assistant branch manager, was my grandfather.

Everyone who participated was a responsible professional employed in Rock Hill, all of us capable of doing something about poverty in our community.

Like my simulated Zuppot grandparents, I guess I thought the government would take care of poverty. I was wrong.

In a debriefing session that followed an hour of role-playing, those who participated used words such as "anger, frustration, desperation, fear and determination" to describe the experience. The frustration was still there.

"I tried to pay my mortgage," said Senbel, "but I didn't have my check cashed and they wouldn't take it. Then they evicted me. We couldn't get to all the places we needed to go to get the money because they close at a certain time."

"It's hard to go to work eight hours a day and get to all these other people," said Lee Gardner, Family Trust CEO. "I only actually went to work one day."

"I was disabled, and I couldn't do anything because I had to wait for my wife to get home," said Talkington, who was grandfather Zuppot.

In the end, most of us were evicted. We didn't know that legally we had to be given 30 days notice. Did you?

I think we were all glad to step back into our own shoes.

Teresa Wilson, who is with the poverty simulation program in Missouri, gave us something to think about before we left.

"We can go home to our own life," she said. "Where can they go?"

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