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      Grand Strand leaders discover the sting of poverty

      Most Americans will never know what it's like to live in poverty, but a program that came to the Grand Strand Wednesday was aimed at educating people about what it means to be poor.

      More than a hundred community leaders participated in the poverty simulation exercise, "Our Eyes Were Opened," which was held at the Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Surfside Beach.

      The money was fake and the scenario made-up, but the problems the participants faced in the simulation were all too real for most poor families.

      The participants were divided up into simulated families, including children, and given fake jobs that paid very limited wages.

      Then they were told to try to survive financially for a simulated month, with unexpected and costly events thrown in, like a plumbing problem, job loss or car breakdown.

      The founder of the program says it forces people to think about things they've always taken for granted.

      "I've already had one person say, 'I've been doing what I do for 30 years and I never, ever thought about what families were having to go through,' " said founder Beth Templeton.

      During the simulation, the lines of people grew quickly at the bogus pawn shop, the bank and the quick cash outlet, as the participants struggled to stretch every dollar.

      They soon learned that, for those living on the financial edge, one small problem can quickly snowball into a major crisis.

      "Because we don't have transportation, I'm going to lose my job," said Ron Carpenter, who participated in the program as a representative of the First United Methodist Church of Myrtle Beach. "Because we don't have transportation, we have no food, we can't pay our mortgage, we're probably going to end up on the street."

      Joyce Hart, who runs the Horry County Rape Crisis Center, often deals with women who live in poverty. From the simulation program, she learned their frustrations at navigating through a web of agencies, just to get basic services.

      "You have to backtrack, reapply at different agencies and transportation is an issue," Hart said.

      When the simulation was over, participants were asked what emotions they felt while struggling to survive. Their answers: anger, frustration and, most of all, stress.

      Templeton said the program has educated more than 14,000 people around the country.

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