A National Resource to Support Excellence in Community Action
Last Revised: Jun 01, 2009 - Initial Posting: Sep 02, 2005

The Missouri Community Action Network developed the Community Action Poverty Simulation to help raise awareness about different aspects of poverty that can lead to discussion about the potential for change in local communities.


Community Action Poverty Simulation BrochureThe Missouri Community Action Network created the Community Action Poverty Simulation as a unique tool that community action agencies are able to use to increase awareness about the complexities of living in poverty day-to-day.  CAPS is a copyrighted tool made available by MACA to organizations that want to promote a greater understanding of poverty - CAPS brochure - www.povertysimulation.org.

During a simulation, participants role-play the lives of low-income families, from single parents trying to care for their children to senior citizens trying to maintain their self-sufficiency on Social Security.  The task of each family is to provide food, shelter, and other basic necessities during four 15-minute “weeks.”  Families interact with other families, as well as with various community resources staffed by low-income and other volunteers.

A CAPS Kit can be ordered through MACA according to terms and costs described in a Simulation Agreement.  Each Kit is reusable and comes in a large, convenient storage container on wheels with the following materials:

  • Director Manual: Instructions on how to run a simulation, sample invitation letter and news release, facts about poverty, suggestions about what people can do to influence policymaking.
  • Resource Packets: Instructions and accessories for each community resource, including welfare office, pawnshop, school, bank, police station, and grocery store.  Accessories include calculators, clipboards, moneyboxes, play money, homework, Social Security cards, name badges, and forms.
  • Family Packets: There are 32 family packets, each with a scenario and accessories, including play money, appliance cards, and transportation passes.
    CAPS is designed to sensitize those who frequently deal with low-income families and to create a broader awareness among leaders in the community.  The event also serves to build relationships between low-income participants and local community leaders.  Sessions conclude with a dialogue among participants to discuss the feelings and insights they experienced during the exercise.  Media coverage can also be developed to broaden knowledge about poverty issues.

Information is also available on Virtual CAP regarding other resources and tools that can be used in conjunction with CAPS to increase awareness and sensitivity toward poverty:

MACA has also created life-size Community Action Figures to heighten public awareness regarding poverty issues.   The figures are modeled on the Social Sculpture movement of the 1960's and 1970's and include a Young Child and Adolescent GirlPress coverage is developed through use of the sculptures to highlight MACA legislative priorities.


Various groups have sponsored CAPS throughout the U.S. including State CAP Associations, State Extension Services, University groups, and others.  Feedback is consistently expressed indicating the value of CAPS toward increasing sensitivity about poverty.  For instance:

  • The University of Georgia Extension Service presented CAPS to nearly 1,000 community leaders and service providers
    • 51% who participated realized the problems and constraints faced by people living in poverty and developed positive attitudes toward them
    • Most of the participants planned to help people living in poverty
      • 85% planned to view people living in poverty differently to better serve their needs
      • 83% planned to share this information with others living in their community
      • 72% of the participants planned to work with other related community resources to assist people who live in poverty
    • Several participant from one of the simulation events realized the transportation difficulties faced by the people who live in poverty.  They met with local government officials to request free bus transportation for those who needed to go to polling stations on Election Day.  In this, way, CAPS empowered those living in poverty to exercise their democratic rights.
  • The Community Action Association of Pennsylvania (CAAP) conducted CAPS for about 40 government officials including Department of Public Welfare employees, state legislators, and legislative staffers.
  • Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies (OKACAA) hosted six simulations over a year and a half period.  At the end of the simulation, participants were asked for one word to describe their situations.  Participants, however, thought of three: desperation, chaos and draining.
  • William Woods University sponsored CAPS during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week as a follow-up to the community’s One Read featured selection in September of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich’s exposé of minimum wage work.

Missouri Community Action Network