Faces of United Way: Gurston

“When I participated in United Way’s poverty simulation, it was a real eye opener.  I was so impressed with it that I thought it would be good to support it by volunteering for it. Basically everybody is given a role, which includes a set of circumstances that are challenging, and they have to work through an imaginary four weeks in the life of a person who is on the edge of poverty. So we’re not talking about the people who simply lack the skills to enter the workplace in any sense, rather these are people on the edge of poverty, who are living paycheck to paycheck. The simulation includes them experiencing some kind of challenge that just tips them over the financial edge and interacting with community agencies to try to get together a plan so that they can live financially secure lives.”

“I think it’s a very useful kind of exercise for people because I think there’s a general assumption that poverty tells you more about the individual than about their circumstances. Sure, sometimes people make poor decisions, but often times they lose their job through no fault of their own, or they have illness or family responsibilities.”

“When I participated in United Way’s poverty simulation, my role was that of a forty-two year-old grandfather of a one-year-old so I had to juggle child-care and a kind of marginal job. In this kind of marginal job, if the child is ill for a week, is the job still going to be there when you come back? Then it’s the round of charitable agencies and social services, so it changes your thinking about how people become and stay poor, and it also shows you the impact of social agencies being under supported. So, part of the idea of the simulation is that it’s hard to get to see your social worker and the charitable organization just doesn’t have enough money. If you have $600 worth of bills, they can give you $50; so, that’s not a business plan. It’s really an enlightening kind of exercise. It also shows the difficulty of being poor, the frustration, the loss of self-confidence, and all of those negative feelings. It’s a useful thing, and they have to have volunteers to run it, so I do that. I’m retired now. I can do it.”

“People don’t understand the demoralization of living in poverty — that this is a painful experience for people. You know, they can’t make their way in the world and when they have people who depend on them and they aren’t able to deliver for their loved ones, that’s really difficult—the feelings of frustration that the exercise creates.”

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region we've partnered with Faces of Edmonton. In the coming months, Faces of Edmonton will be featuring faces and stories relating to the United Way and its work in your community. We’re looking forward to sharing these portraits and stories with you. To learn more about United Way's work check out the Report to Community online.