LIFE LESSON: Living Below The Poverty Line

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Living on a limited budget is something you really can't understand until you live it.

A group of college students is learning what it's like to live below the poverty line while giving back to those who experience it every day.

Ashton Weis is spending the summer with kids. She says, "I love working with kids." The recent Drake graduate is interning with Children and Family Urban Ministries' Awesome Summer Days camp. Weis says, "I've made a lot of lunches."

Weis also sorts food, does office work and plays with the kids. And, it doesn't cost the non-profit any money. Program Director Janelle Mueller say, "I couldn't pay someone for those hours because it's filling the gap that would have taken away from the paid staff we're able to hire in the summer, would have taken away from the focus of the kids."

Weis is part of a six week program with Drake University's Summer of Service Learning and Social Justice. Drake University’s Director of Service Learning Community Engagement Mandi McReynolds says, "We find that programs like this that allow our students to experience poverty, live in poverty and then serve individuals who are struggling with issues of justice."

Seven Drake University students take part in the poverty simulation. They live on campus, work 25 to 30 hours a week at local non-profits, and get a weekly budget to buy food for their simulated family. Weis says, "There's seven of us, and we're given $70 a week to go grocery shopping with, so it's like living on a free and reduced lunch rate."

Weis says it has been an eye opening experience, and they have really learned to stretch their food budget, including picking up free bread. Weis says, "I eat a lot of bread.” She goes on to say, “The stuff that's really hard and more expensive is the fruits and vegetables you want fresh."

Weis tries to eat at camp as much as she can to stretch her family's budget. She also works a second job, like many families living in poverty. McReynolds says, "Some of it is to more build empathy and solidarity of those you serve and an understanding of that money is not just this free flowing thing."

Weis says, "You learn how to be more resourceful and how to stretch your money so that you're getting all your meals, but also not overspending."

The Slay Fund, a grant from two Drake alums, pays for the program. It costs $2,000 per student. Each intern gets a $1,000 stipend at the end of the program.