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Eight from HPU’s social work program participate in Mission Waco Poverty Simulation

Six Howard Payne University students, a faculty member and a retired faculty member recently took part in Mission Waco’s Poverty Simulation. The goal of the trip was to give participants a firsthand look at poverty in America. This was HPU’s 10th year to participate in the event.

Mission Waco creates a safe, controlled weekend of experiences that are designed to increase empathy for those living in poverty. HPU students joined approximately 25 other people of various ages to go through this simulation together.

Those who made the trip included Rachel Derrington Bourke, professor of social work and director of the social work program; sophomore Felicia Guzman of Natalia; senior David Manolof of Midway, Arkansas; senior Shantel Oplotnik of Brownwood; senior Destiny Sharp of Brownwood; senior Andrew Taylor of Brookesmith; and sophomore Diana Torres from Houston.

Dan Humeniuk, assistant professor emeritus of social work, also accompanied the group, making this his 10th time participating in the poverty simulation.

“It was a privilege to once again participate in the weekend with a group of HPU students,” he said. “The experience always serves to emphasize how people of faith should respond to poverty. It is always my hope that the students bring back a greater sensitivity to those who live in the margins of society and a clearer understanding of their obligation as Christians to advocate and assist those in need.”

Attendees experienced a very small sample of the hunger, tiredness and hardship many homeless people have to endure on a daily basis. With the exception of travel to a service project, they walked everywhere they needed to go, which totaled about 14 miles over the weekend.

“The experience helps social work students better understand the needs of the marginalized and oppressed,” said Derrington Bourke. “When it is time for the students to go into practice, they will be better informed to provide services and create community initiatives to build pathways out of poverty.”

The group had the opportunity to attend a church service and worship at the Magnolia Market Silos in Waco on Sunday morning. Mission Waco conducts the church services and, as part of the simulation, participants walked one-and-a-half miles to the worship site. Groups of people from all over Waco, including college students, families and homeless people, join together to worship there.

“Once at the Silos we were greeted by the biggest smiles and warmest welcomes,” said Shantel Oplotnik. “The congregation was full of homeless people. What an inspiration it was to see those who have absolutely nothing praising God.”

Derrington Bourke expressed the importance of these types of experiences for students going into the social field.

“Our future social work leaders are tasked to help communities break down the stereotypes about people in poverty and build partnerships,” said Derrington Bourke. “The goal is to provide resources so each and every individual will be able to reach his or her full potential.”


Cutline: Eight from HPU participated in the 2019 Poverty Simulation in Waco. From left to right are Rachel Derrington Bourke, assistant professor of social work and director of HPU’s social work program; Diana Torres; David Manolof; Felicia Guzman; Andrew Taylor; Destiny Sharp; and Dan Humeniuk, assistant professor emeritus. Not pictured is Shantel Oplotnik.