Edmond teenagers learn lessons in poverty

An activity at an Edmond church allowed youth group members to better understand poverty.
BY STEVE GUST Modified: February 4, 2013 at 3:49 pm •  Published: February 4, 2013
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Two young women wearing “I'm hungry,” signs approached Hoffhines and asked if he would be interested in purchasing illegal narcotics.

“We're poor. We need money,” they said.

Hoffhines declined the purchase and directed them to the mock social service agency.

The most popular stations were the quick loan and pawnshops. Students would try to sell wedding rings, cameras, televisions or other goods at the pawn station. The items were represented by photographs.

Damian Rodriguez, portraying a pawn store owner, was frugal with the sellers.

“I got a million of these cameras here, I just can't give you that much for it,” he said.

In real life, Rodriguez is a business owner and poverty is an issue that alarms him.

“I read where 18 percent of people in Oklahoma County are living in poverty,” he said. “It's tragic. It really is.”

Zahn-Pittser has seen it firsthand.

“Last week I had a mother of five call me,” she said. “Her husband had left and she had been evicted. She needed help.”

Otto Nieman, father of one of the youth, also had heard stories.

“I knew a woman with a baby who was married to a drug abuser,” he said.

“She would pray not to get an unexpected bill, like a blown tire, because she just couldn't afford any unforeseen expense.”

At the end of the evening, Zahn-Pittser asked students how many had bettered themselves during the exercise. Fewer than 10 hands went up. She asked how many had ended up with “hungry” signs after not being able to afford groceries. About half answered affirmatively.

Some of the students had comments.

“People should be doing something about this,” one young man said. “There are people living in tents and having no food. It's not right.”

Another student didn't look forward to growing up.

And another participant was even more succinct.

“Being poor is just terrible,” she said.