Experts at the West Virginia University Extension Service are helping service leaders better understand underprivileged workers through poverty simulations at the Faces of Leadership conference on Oct. 13 in Charleston, West Virginia.

More than 200 AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members and volunteers will gain a unique view of life in poverty through three-hour simulations at the event. The leadership conference is the state’s largest gathering of volunteers using service as a strategy to improve communities.

The goal of the simulations is to create an immersive experience that helps participants increase their knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of poverty. The simulations have historically helped volunteers deal with service opportunities in the Mountain State, according to Tony Michael, associate professor and program leader for WVU Extension Service’s Institute for Labor Studies and Research.

“Many volunteers will be working with poverty-stricken populations,” said Michael. “The simulation experience promotes more effective communication, empathy and service.”

During the scenarios, participants will take on various roles that expose the realties impoverished workers are faced with on a daily basis. Volunteers will act as single parents with families who are balancing work and financial stresses while raising a child, and as a senior citizen struggling to remain independent while living off Social Security.

“Sadly, research shows these are very realistic scenarios for many families in West Virginia,” said Denis Scott, Assistant Professor and Global Education and Civic Engagement Specialist for the WVU Extension Service. “As the unemployment rate and number of West Virginians in poverty changes, so must our understanding of how to accommodate as service leaders.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2015 data revealed West Virginia had with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, with nearly 20 percent of West Virginians living in poverty and a quarter of children residing in homes with an annual income of $24,000 or less.

According to Michael, low-income and disadvantaged workers are constantly faced with the burden of how to best care for their families with such limited resources and financial support.

“As service leaders, it’s important that we understand the impact of those who are struggling with poverty in this state,” said Michael. “Participants realize just how difficult it can be to navigate life when a family is pulled into the cycle of poverty, and that realization promotes a more informed appreciation for the challenges that poverty creates for individuals, families and society.”

To learn more about the poverty simulations, email or call 304-293-3323 or Denis Scott at or 304-293-8665.

The WVU Extension Service is a primary outreach division of West Virginia University. With offices in each of the state’s 55 counties, Extension faculty and staff develop and deliver programs in leadership, rural and community-based economic development, youth development, workforce development and health education.

For more information on the Faces of Leadership Conference, visit



CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service

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