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Online simulator helps build understanding of those living under budget constraints

37% of households in Kent County are struggling to meet basic needs, according to Heart of West Michigan United Way
Posted at 5:13 PM, Sep 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 17:40:00-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A new online simulator presents an engaging and approachable way for anyone with an internet connection to better understand the challenges faced by families living under tight budget constraints.

The web application called Making Ends Meet was commissioned by Heart of West Michigan United Way and developed over 8 weeks by Well Design Studio in Grand Rapids.

In regards to poverty simulators, Josh Leffingwell, a partner at Well Design, said, “We've been doing these across our community for years. But during the pandemic, like so many companies and organizations, they had to change their tactics.”

Groups like United Way have brought these sorts of simulations to business partners in the past, but putting it online is a more recent concept.

“We developed this tool because we wanted to give people a chance to really look at families who are maybe above the poverty line, but still struggling to meet their basic needs,” said Maribeth Groen, assistant director of marketing and communications for Heart of West Michigan United Way.

In the simulator you can choose between 4 different individuals or families, each with their own unique financial situation and challenges.

You are tasked with lasting 30 days under a tight budget, starting off with $1,200, you have to make it last.

You may earn some money or have some positive experiences in your "30 days", but there will also be challenges and difficult choices to make.

“So essentially, this is a balance across 30 days of trying to balance the amount of money that you have in your bank account, but also balance your stress level," Leffingwell said.

"And by incorporating stress into it, we also were able to make these characters a little bit more holistic.”

The simulation is aimed at providing businesses and individuals a window into real challenges families are facing right now in West Michigan.

“We really are hoping that through this game, that the users will gain a sense of empathy... there's that myth out there that poor people don't work, or they don't want to work. Or maybe if families just budget better, they can meet their make their ends meet," Groen said.

"So with this tool, we just want to kind of give some insight into little things that you don't think about.”

You can give the simulation a try at Heart of West Michigan United Way's website.