HPU social work students’ lives impacted as they experience poverty

BROWNWOOD – December 10, 2015 – Seven Howard Payne University students recently took part in one of Mission Waco’s Poverty Simulations, an experience designed to give participants a firsthand look at poverty in America.

Mission Waco creates a safe, controlled weekend of experiences that is designed to increase empathy for those living in poverty in America. HPU students joined approximately 40 other people of all ages to go through this simulation together.

Dan Humeniuk, assistant professor of social work and chair of HPU’s Department of Criminal Justice, Social Work and Sociology, takes part in the simulation with his students each year. He shared his takeaway from the experience.

“It’s a personal journey,” said Humeniuk. “You are certainly taken out of your comfort zone.”

The poverty simulation participants were not given any luxuries, including transportation. They had to walk everywhere they needed to go.

“By our estimates, and walking about three miles per hour, you walk about twelve to fourteen miles during the entire simulation,” said Humeniuk.

The group had the opportunity to experience a church service and worship under a bridge that Sunday morning as well. Mission Waco conducts the church services, and as part of the simulation, participants have to walk one and a half miles from the site to the bridge. On the way to Church Under the Bridge, they walk past two large, affluent churches. Groups of people from all over Waco, college students, families and homeless people all join together to worship under the bridge.

Rebecca Blohm, sophomore from Midlothian, was impacted greatly by Church Under the Bridge.

“The people made their way to worship God under a busy highway unashamed and ready to love,” said Blohm. “No matter what walk of life or struggle people were facing, they were so thankful and faithful to God and His grace. It was an amazing example that I wish everyone could experience at least once in their lives.”

Karina Garcia, junior from Brownwood, was also touched by attending Church Under the Bridge during the simulation.

“To see people who have almost nothing still have faith in God and to be able to hold their hands up high and praise God was a beautiful sight to see,” said Garcia. “I want to have faith as strong as them.”

According to Humeniuk, Church Under the Bridge is an aspect of the weekend that always grabs the students’ attention.

“Upon returning home, one of our students felt the need to make sure she and her family were more faithful in their worship,” Humeniuk said.

Amy Tyler, junior from Early, came away from the experience ready to give back to the local community. Humeniuk commented on her experience.

“Amy was so touched by what went on that she presented a project to the HPU Social Work Club about putting together hygiene packets for people in our community who are homeless,” said Humeniuk.

The HPU Social Work Club took Tyler’s recommendation and made packets by way of donations. Six members from the club and two faculty members served lunch at the Salvation Army this past Friday and were able to leave the packets with Salvation Army personnel. Those packets will be distributed to the homeless and those at risk of being homeless in Brownwood.

“Poverty is about more than just money,” said Blohm. “It is an attitude and lifestyle that involves loneliness and hopelessness. It is just as important to give a listening ear or some time to visit and show interest in others’ lives.”

Garcia took the time to just listen to some of the homeless people she met in Waco.

“They want you to know their stories,” said Garcia. “This experience and what I learned will make me a better social worker.”

In addition to Blohm, Garcia and Tyler, other students who attended were Melanie Hammond, senior from Springtown; Emily Selman, sophomore from Red Oak; Marshall Wirtz, sophomore from Comanche; and HPU graduate Paula Johnson ’15.

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Photo cutline: HPU students and faculty participated in a Poverty Simulation in Waco earlier this semester. They are pictured on the HPU campus. Left to right: Dan Humeniuk, Marshall Wirtz, Rebecca Blohm, Melanie Hammond, Paula Johnson, Amy Tyler, Karina Garcia and Emily Selman.