Wednesday, 04 March 2015 14:25

MHC students learn what living on the edge of poverty is like

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It’s a busy morning Feb. 26 and Holly Stadnicki, executive director with the United Way of South Eastern Alberta, was standing on a platform in the Terrace Room in Chinook Village retirement homes in Medicine Hat in  front of a room full of Medicine Hat College (MHC) students.


She called for their attention and told them to get ready to move to a new station. She blew a whistle loudly.
Stadnicki was taking part in the United Way’s Living on the Edge Poverty Simulation along with 80 MHC students from a variety of disciplines including social work and nursing to name a few. The students were given roles to play (i.e. single mom, teenagers, homeless person, etc.).
They then were given 15 minutes to visit a station. It could include going to the food bank or using another social agency to get help.
Volunteers from the college or actual members of a variety of social agencies play the agency, business or government roles.
Amanda, (who didn’t want to share her last name), a nursing student from Provost, took part in the simulation.
She found the whole experience interesting. She played the role of a 17-year-old boy who had a single mom, is involved in a drug gang and got his girlfriend pregnant.
The idea was to deal with the different real-life scenarios and potential outcomes.
“By the end I was so frustrated with everything,” she says slightly bemused in a telephone interview.
She added it was good in the fact she could better understand what people in these situations face.
“(I) saw different perspectives. (It was) nice to get to see different students from other departments (i.e. social work) ... It was definitely a fun exercise and a nice change.”
Amanda says the 15-minute intervals was good way of trying to get to all of the different stations and playing out all of the scenarios, otherwise it may have dragged out. Also one may have missed the opportunity to experience all the scenarios which ranged from dealing with law enforcement and social service agencies to having to deal with a pawn shop.
“The social services wait line was the worst,” says Amanda in regards to what the real-life scenario must be like. “The drug dealer really got into character as did the pawn shop guy.”
JoDee Wentzel, a nursing instructor, says the day was a success and she has it incorporated in her social nursing program.
“Anytime the students can have a hands-on experience, it’s a good thing; this really brought to life what people go through,” Wentzel explains agreeing it’s a positive way to work with other departments. “There is no prep. They arrived, they’re assigned their roles and away they go ... People really got into character.”
Wentzel says for her students to understand they have to deal with a vulnerable population, this gives them a different perspective on how they’re feeding their families, using the services available (and finding out how to use them).”
The nursing instructor adds the reviews from the students were good in regards to the United Way’s second attempt at the event.
For Stadnicki, it’s important to educate the students about these real-life scenarios and the people who deal with it each day.
“It’s an everyday reality we know approximately 7,200 (Medicine) Hatters face. This program is a way to help showcase the complexity and frustrations of living in poverty day-to-day,” adds Stadnicki in a statement.
“These students will be service providers in our area once they graduate; it’s good for them to be on the other side to gain a great understanding and empathy for individuals experiencing poverty.”

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor