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Student’s agency gift raises awareness about people living in poverty

When Leslie Mullinix started her field placement last year with Crisis Control Ministry (CCM) in Winston-Salem, she knew she would learn a lot about working with people and families living on the edge, struggling to make ends meet. Thanks to her creative talents and a bit of determination, others in the community also have more opportunities to learn about the realities of living in poverty.

Mullinix, now a final-year student in the Winston-Salem Distance Education Program, helped her assigned agency develop and launch “Living on the Edge,” a 75- to 90-minute presentation with activities designed to help small groups better understand the causes of poverty. The program serves as a companion piece to CCM’s popular poverty simulation, an interactive role-playing program where participants step into the shoes of a low-income family member and work through scenarios that test their ability to meet their financial obligations.

The Winston-Salem agency, which assists people in crisis with food, housing, pharmacy and basic medical needs, has hosted the poverty simulation for the past four years. However, because of limited resources, it has been unable to meet demand for the program. CCM leaders tapped Mullinix with the task of developing a companion program that could be delivered more efficiently and to a wider audience.

The project paired perfectly with Mullinix’s requirement to develop a “gift” for her field placement agency. The MSW program requires that foundation year students create agency gifts to ensure that a substantive community management and policy project is incorporated into the field learning experience. The projects also offer students a chance to help their assigned agencies address an unmet need.

For Mullinix, the goal was to develop a learning exercise with an informative, eye-opening message about the day-to-day difficulties of living on limited means. The Living on the Edge program incorporates several interactive activities that enable participants to quickly get a sense for the challenges low-wage families often face, such as finding affordable housing and reliable transportation, she said.

“People divide into groups and then they go through these different modules where they have to manage their monthly budget,” Mullinix explained. “Life happenings that sometimes occur are also thrown in to impact their budget and to make it as real-to-life as possible so participants can identify with what others often go through.”

The activities also aim to help participants realize that all families share similar obligations and desires, such as the need to feed their children, get them to school and pay their bills on time.

“The Living on the Edge program just helps them to view these activities with a finite amount of resources compared to what they normally have to work with,” Mullinix said. “That’s the big learning piece. We also discuss the difference in charity and advocacy regarding issues of poverty. Our goal is to provide concrete ideas to change the systems that create living on the edge scenarios.”

Seven organizations have completed the Living on the Edge program since its launch in May, and five have booked sessions for 2017, said CCM’s director of programming Bill Blackburn, who praised Mullinix’s work on the project.

“Leslie was amazing to work with as she had a sincere passion to create something special, and she had a knack for knowing what we needed,” Blackburn said. “After a lot of research and some great creative thinking, we ended up with the program we have today…a marvelous gift!”

Mullinix, who graduates in May, is equally thrilled that a program she had a hand in has been making such an impression.

“It’s really been exciting that something I helped create has truly made a difference to the agency and that it has helped move people’s perspective on poverty,” she said. “That to me is so awesome and so gratifying.”