OGDEN -- Raquel Lee is a hard worker who enjoys her job as assistant director at Your Community Connection.
But Monday afternoon, she found herself in a simulated unemployed situation as a member of a family that had more expenses than income.
Quickly, she did whatever it took to get herself a job and make up that difference.
"I know my personality," she said. "I had to do what I could."
Lee was one of about 50 members of area social-service organizations and volunteer groups to participate in a poverty simulation sponsored by United Way of Northern Utah and held at the Swanson Tactical Training Facility.
Lee's simulated family was one of the few that managed to meet all of its financial obligations by the end of the exercise, which represented one month of time.
"I learned that we have each other, and that's what counts," Lee said. "When you have a family, it makes all the difference."
Making a difference from the beginning was Lee's simulated mother-in-law, Brenda Holston, who was there as a member of the Ogden Altrusa Society.
She contributed her disability paycheck and started paying bills from the start, while the father of the family went to work and Lee looked for assistance from area social service agencies as well as a job.
The family was well enough off at the end that it became the only one in the exercise to share some of its abundance with a nonprofit agency.
Matt Morris, a social worker at YCC, played the role of a 15-year-old in the successful family.
Acting the role of the child, he was grateful for $5 the father gave him to participate in a school field trip and got a job himself to help with family expenses and to pay for extracurricular activities.
Morris said he learned from the reality of the family having to use its limited transportation money every time anyone went anywhere, even if there was no help available at that time.
Working at YCC, Morris said there have been many times he has stayed a few minutes late to help a family in need.
Now, he said, he'll do so with more understanding.
"I learned to be more empathetic," he said. "There are times when people come in and we are closed. I help them anyway."
During a debriefing, others who participated also said they learned how hard it was for those with limited resources to get ahead and how hard it was at times to be turned away from these agencies without being helped.
One couple playing the part of homeless people said they were both surprised at how hard it was for them to break out of their situation.
They were able to get jobs and earn enough money, but because of the stigma of being homeless, the agencies they went to would not help them get into a home.
Lynn Kelley, a member of the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity of Weber and Davis Counties, said she was surprised when her simulated family tried to sell jewelry at the pawn shop and the manager was not interested in what they had to sell.
"It really didn't occur to me it would be that way," she said. "I'd never been in a pawn shop."
Participants also reported afterward that there was very little time to take care of their simulated children because of all the other demands on their time.
Pat Ropelato, the president of Ogden Altrusa, who played a child who was neglected and hungry, said she ended up stealing from the neighborhood market during the exercise.
Roger Condie, regional coordinator for the Earn It, Keep It, Save It program, said statistics indicate that a person in poverty works harder than a person with middle income.
And he pointed to child neglect as a real issue among those who are doing all they can just to survive.
Leslie Herold, United Way of Northern Utah director of community impact, said people in agencies designed to help those in poverty need to have accurate information if they are to be of real help.
"Things change on a rapid basis as far as who has money and who doesn't," she said. "Make sure you have correct information, so they don't waste their time going after help that isn't there."
Participants who left enlightened about the needs of the impoverished asked how they could help in the future.
Jill Oberndorfer, a program manager at the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership, said volunteering is the best way to serve. She said having ample volunteers is important for her agency.
"We have to have $1.6 million in volunteer work a year or we don't get our money," she said.
Others had noted that program funding often comes in terms of matches for community support.
A handful of simulated families participating in the exercise were evicted during the program.
Oberndorfer said all the evictions that were done were illegal, but only two people questioned them.
Condie said: "It's knowing those rights that can empower people."