Students empowered to become agents of change following Poverty Challenge

May 11, 2017

GUELPH, Ontario – Students from across the Upper Grand District School Board had a powerful experience on Wednesday, as they learned what it’s like to ‘walk a mile in the shoes’ of someone living in poverty.

On May 10, the UGDSB held its second annual Poverty Challenge at the University of Guelph.

The one-day event introduced students in the City of Guelph, Dufferin County and Wellington County to the poverty issues faced by many citizens every day.

The day began with an introduction from Stuart Beumer, Director of Ontario Works in the Wellington County Social Services Department. Beumer explained to students how people living in poverty get access to services in our communities, and the barriers they may face. He also discussed the numbers, including homelessness and access to shelters in Guelph and Wellington.

Poverty Challenge guest Stuart Beumer

Next, keynote Barb McPhee shared her moving story with the group. She described the challenges that she has faced throughout her life, growing up and trying to raise a family while living in poverty. She also expressed that poverty has been the greatest motivating factor in her life – and that her life is rich in many other ways.

Poverty Challenge guest Barb McPhee

From there, students broke into working groups to dig into the challenges ahead. The day was designed to show students the barriers that people living in poverty face. Students played the role of poverty experts, while community volunteers played the role of local agencies and organizations. After going through the emotional challenges of trying to access resources and support, students met with the poverty expert whose life experiences they were acting out. The experts shared the realities of living in poverty.

In the afternoon, the entire group got back together and were introduced to all of the day’s poverty experts, who shared a bit more of their stories and offered some words of advice to the students. Be nice, don’t judge, volunteer your time, advocate and spread awareness were just some of the messages shared.

Students then participated in think tank exercises. In their smaller working groups, they brainstormed the barriers faced by people living in poverty, and possible solutions they could help implement in their communities. They wrote down what poverty may look like, sound like or feel like in their schools and considered what barriers are in place to those individuals. They thought about things schools are already doing really to support those living in poverty.

Poverty Challenge 2017 solutions

Students ended the day by creating an action plan to take back to their school. They considered who will be involved, what, when and how their goals will be achieved. They also set a time and place to meet as a group back at their school to take the next steps.

Poverty Challenge organizers hope the students will be motivated to become the voice of change, spread awareness of the issue and support their fellow students.

Poverty Challenge 2017 graffiti wall