ELYRIA — For three hours, Katie McNulty traded in her identity as a 14-year-old from Avon High School to become a pregnant 16-year-old who has to watch over her two younger siblings while her mother worked and her father tried to find a job.
Her family was on the verge of getting evicted, and with only one car they struggled to take care of simple tasks such as getting to school or procuring child care.
Katie and dozens of other teens were participating in a poverty simulation Saturday during the Youth Summit at Lorain County Community College. With help from the Community Foundation of Lorain County, teens discussed how to make impactful change through philanthropy and then experienced what it would be like to live in a financially struggling family for a month.
“Our dad can’t find a job because too many people are applying,” Katie explained. “These are all situations that could happen. Being in it and seeing how hard it is can be really scary in a way.”
Inside the Spitzer Conference Center, tables were set up to act as different places: school, work, jail, a pawn shop, social services, church and other agencies. Throughout the hour, the teens had to go around the room and accomplish day-to-day tasks with extra hurdles like unreliable transportation or not enough money for food and rent.
Every 15 minutes a new week would begin and families were faced with new problems.
Libby Sklonik, a senior at Firelands High School and president of the Youth Fund Advisory Committee, walked around overseeing the families and enforced some of the rules, like making sure parents didn’t bring their children to work, which could result in getting fired from a job.
“The whole goal of the Youth Summit was to bring all the youth together and to equip them to create positive change but also to show how we are all in Lorain County and how diverse it is,” Libby said. “We need to bring out these issues, and change is needed.”
Libby’s dad, Skip Sklonik, played the role of a pawn shop owner.
Molly Fenik, 14, approached the pawn shop looking to trade in a few things to get some money to pay her gas bill.
She already had been homeless and used all of her money to get back into her house, but no money was left to pay for the utilities.
When Sklonik didn’t offer her enough money, she decided to try to get charity from the local church instead.
They also were out of money and could only help her with some food and clothes donations.
“My gas is going to get shut off,” she said, walking away from the church and looking unsure of where to go next.
On the other side of the room, Caleb Lews, 16, from Elyria High School, was trying to apply for Social Security, but he left a few things off the form needed to get aid.
Dave Borosz-Johnson, who played the role of the Social Services office, said that is a common struggle in real life.
“They have a limited time to fill out some pretty burdensome applications,” he said. “Depending on the hours they work, they may have to come after and we might be closed because we’re open the same time as many businesses. We’re also understaffed, so there are generally long waits.”
Over in juvenile detention, Carl Rak, 16, from Avon High School, was waiting for someone to get him after he was caught bringing a weapon to school.
“I brought a pencil that was sharpened too much,” Carl said, holding up the pencil, which in reality had a dull top.
He was invited to the poverty simulation from the Youth Fund and is considering joining the group.
“It’s pretty fun, but kind of eye-opening to see how hard it really is,” Carl said.
This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: It is the Community Foundation of Lorain County that endows the Youth Fund.