Brorson’s ‘Life on the Edge in Kitsap County’ Event to Shed Light on Challenges of Poverty

As the outreach coordinator for Kitsap Credit Union, Cathy Brorson is responsible for sharing “the credit union philosophy of ‘people helping people’ through education and community participation.” Through an upcoming event entitled, “Life on the Edge in Kitsap County,” Brorson is working to not only engage her credit union in carrying out this philosophy, but to illuminate the challenges associated with poverty-based decision-making and to engage community leaders from all sectors in finding solutions.

“My hope is that it’s with that same kind of cooperative spirit that people will come together in this event and collectively come up with some solutions and some plans for kind of eradicating poverty in this area and beyond.”

Brorson is responsible for overseeing the Kitsap’s service to the underserved, hosting community events and facilitating financial education. She is also an active volunteer in the Kitsap area, including extensive work with Coffee Oasis, a teen shelter located blocks from the credit union. Brorson is now looking to merge this passion into a singular focus as she tackles the challenge of poverty as the focus of her credit union development educator (DE) project.

Funded in part by a grant from the Northwest Credit Union Foundation (NWCUF), Brorson organized “Life on the Edge in Kitsap County,” a day-long event scheduled for May 8 at the Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton, Wash., that offers participants a multi-layered look at the issue of poverty from a number of perspectives.

“There are four main components to this event,” Brorson said. “The first part is, of course, just education and awareness. We’re going to set the stage for that starting with Sen. Christine Rolfes, and she is going to kick us off from the state level. Then we’re going to have Commissioner Charlotte Garrido talk from the county level. Bremerton City Mayor Patty Lent is going to talk from the city level, and then Elliot Gregg, our CEO, is going to talk as a local business about what we’re doing to help fight poverty.”

“It’s a community problem, so it requires community input.”

Much of the event will center on a thought-provoking interactive element called the Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS). Created and proliferated by the Missouri Association for Community Action, CAPS is a tool designed to help create a deeper understanding of poverty and its spider web of related challenges.

During a CAPS simulation, participants take on an assumed identity, role-playing the lives of a member of a low-income family. Using fake money and 15-minute “weeks,” each family is tasked with meeting its basic needs, with securing food, shelter and other everyday necessities while interacting with other community members and attempting to access resources.

“We’re going to re-enact the lives of 36 low-income families,” Brorson said, meaning that the first 72 people to register will play active roles in the simulation.

“Each family is going to be given a different scenario,” Brorson said. “So, for example, you  might be the dad in a family, and you have to go out and get a job. Your wife might have to take your son to the doctor because he’s very sick, and you also have to go get groceries, and then you have another child you have to drop off at daycare. And your family has one bus pass. So, what gives? Do you not go to the doctor and just hope that your son gets better? Do you try and make it one more day without your husband finding a job? These are very real scenarios that people in poverty are facing on a day-to-day basis, and there are layers of the problem that most of us, our perception, we don’t even see those layers. We just look at the guy and say, “Why doesn’t he just go get a job?’. It’s not that easy. There are so many other facets of that problem that he is dealing with that we don’t even see.”

Each scenario then changes between each 15-minute week, and other participants, filling the roles of pawn broker, grocery store clerk and loan officer, for instance, work with the simulated families as they navigate obstacle after obstacle.

Brorson said that educating the community about the depth of the challenges associated with poverty, about the different ways that people in poverty often communicate and about the different decisions they are faced with, is an important first step, and she hopes that the simulation will spur some intense discourse during the debriefing to follow.

But the event won’t be all theoretical, Brorson said, as participants will be encouraged to apply their knowledge—and to report back on their progress—in the hope that the event will not only give participants a new perspective and food for thought, but that it will spur them to take long-term action. The afternoon will feature a resource fair, which Brorson hopes will not only show attendees the variety of organizations and resources available in the community, but also connect organizations with each other and with volunteers in an effort to strengthen and deepen their impact.

“The agencies I tried to focus on for this event are the ones that are really trying to provide a hand up,” Brorson said, “versus just a handout. Both are good, but I wanted to feature businesses or organizations that were going to provide a little bit more opportunity for people to make a commitment. At the end of the day, there is going to be a call to action, and that call is that before you leave here today, you go back out to at least one of those organizations, and you make a commitment.”

Each organization provided a “needs list,” because, as Brorson said, “there are so many other needs besides financial. Maybe an organization just needs their building painted. Maybe they just need volunteers. Maybe they need a couple mentors an hour or two a week. So, whatever those needs are, we’re going to have those posted, and people can be thinking about that throughout the day.”

“Life on the Edge in Kitsap County” will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8. Pre-registration for the event is required, and tickets are available for $45 by contacting Brorson at 360.662.2153.


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