HPU social work students get first-hand lessons in poverty

Poverty SimulationBROWNWOOD – December 17, 2013 – Five Howard Payne University social work students recently participated in Mission Waco’s Poverty Simulation, a weekend experience created to challenge students to “see the world through different eyes.”

Dan Humeniuk, assistant professor of social work and chair of HPU’s criminal justice, social work and sociology department, has had a class participate in Poverty Simulation for the past five years.

“More than 15 percent of the American population lives below the poverty line,” he said, referencing U.S. Census Bureau statistics. “We’re increasingly becoming a society in which there is a great division between those who are economically disadvantaged and those who have substantial resources.”

Approximately 50 individuals participated in this year’s simulation, a safe experience designed to increase empathy for those living in poverty. In addition to planned activities, participants slept outdoors and experienced what it is like to find meals with very little money.

According to Humeniuk, these activities promote compassion for those who are less fortunate.

“The Bible addresses our responsibilities as Christians toward those who are struggling,” he said.

Rebekah Steadman, a junior social work major from Fort Worth, was one of two students who returned to Poverty Simulation a second year, despite only being required to participate once.

“I learned something different each time that I participated in the simulation,” she said. “This year, the great lesson that affected me was the importance of relationships and community. We met many people in poverty and heard many stories throughout the weekend that brought the truths of poverty to life. The one thing all the people had in common was that they lacked material possessions but were rich in their relationships with one another. It is a beautiful lesson we all must learn whether we are in poverty or not. How valuable are our relationships and friendships to us versus our material possessions?”

Humeniuk said social work is a “spiritual calling.”

“A social worker’s life’s goal is not to make a lot of money,” he said. “A social worker is more concerned with doing something rather than being somebody.”

Said Steadman, “Those who are impoverished should not be ignored by those of us who have been blessed to give and have the knowledge of how to do so. This simulation truly opens a person’s heart and eyes to the everyday lives of people in poverty and all the extreme struggles they face to survive.”

In addition to Steadman, other students on the trip included Shannon Bundy, a senior from Port Aransas; Jeffery Fennell, a junior from Converse; Jessica Ferrell-Raborn, a senior from Salado; and Paula Johnson, a junior from Spring.

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Photo cutline: Five HPU students and a faculty member recently participated in Mission Waco’s Poverty Simulation. Left to right: Dan Humeniuk, Jessica Ferrell-Raborn, Shannon Bundy, Paula Johnson, Jeffery Fennell and Rebekah Steadman.