The Poverty Challenge originated in Kingston, Ontario in 2009. It is a day-long event for approximately 120 high school students, 12 teachers and 90-100 volunteers. The participating students and teachers are each given a profile of someone living in poverty. The volunteers are trained to play the roles of employees of social service agencies and are set up in realistic-looking offices. Over two rounds of a simulation activity the participants attempt to solve personal challenges by visiting the service agencies staffed by the volunteers.
Students participating in The Challenge often find it hard to believe that many of their problems seem insurmountable, but the scenarios they face are real, based on extensive research. The most powerful part of the day occurs just after lunch when each person following a particular profile is introduced to the real person from our community living in poverty, The Poverty Expert whose challenges they have been attempting to solve. The afternoon is spent in “Think Tanks” in which students brainstorm improvements to our social safety nets.
The creators of The Poverty Challenge have written THE POVERTY CHALLENGE TOOLKIT, a free online resource which explains how to replicate this event in another community. The toolkit is divided into three main sections: an Introduction, with a brief background and overview of The Challenge schedule, a Long Term Planning section that describes the work necessary in the months leading up to running a Poverty Challenge, and an Event in Detail section that describes each specific component of the Challenge. This toolkit also contains photographs and an extensive Appendix, with blank versions of the many documents that were created or modified for use during the simulation and as part of planning the day.
The Poverty Challenge Toolkit was produced with the support of the Limestone District School Board and the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board.