The Poverty Challenge

Students from Across Muskoka, Parry Sound and Orillia Gather to Explore the Reality of Local Poverty
Posted on 01/14/2016

On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, students from secondary schools in Muskoka, Parry Sound and Orillia will come together at the Muskoka Campus of Nipissing University in Bracebridge at the invitation of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) and St. Dominic Catholic Secondary School. Funded by the Poverty Reduction of Muskoka Planning Table (PROMPT), this dramatic exercise will require high school students to walk a mile in the shoes of their most vulnerable neighbours. 

The Poverty Challenge has been running in Kingston since 2009. Following a presentation at a conference for the Ontario Catholic School Trustee Association, SMCDSB Trustee Carol Corriveau-Truchon knew that she wanted students in our communities to have this opportunity. “The day served to change stereotypes and helped students to view those who live in a poverty through a new lens. The students who came to talk to us expressed how meaningful the day was, and how it had changed their perceptions permanently.”

What’s it like to try to find affordable housing in towns that cater to the rich tourist market? How does it feel when teachers assume that you are not interested in your child’s education, or employers won’t hire you, because you live in social housing? How can you get to a doctor’s appointment when you don’t own a car and there is no public transportation? How do you get a driver’s license if you don’t know anyone who owns a car? How does it feel when your kids’ friends won’t come over to play? 

These are among the questions that The Poverty Challenge organizers have gathered by interviewing local people about their real-life experiences. They also form the basis of the roles that students will play at this free event as they move from simulations of the food bank and the welfare office to the disability office and the legal clinic. 

“Using the work that has been done in Kingston, then meeting with local people, we have developed a unique, interactive learning experience based on what we learned from the area’s real Poverty Experts,” said educator Maria Vandenberg. “We hope that both students and our volunteers will come away with a fresh appreciation of the problems faced by low income people – and a new determination to do something about the shameful situation they face every day.”

Throughout the day, students will have the opportunity to visit a Speaker’s Corner and make notes on a Graffiti Wall. The results of those efforts will be posted on the Board website,