The Life Simulation – Walking in Your Member’s Shoes

10/28/15 | | Comments (0)
Life Simulation


You never truly know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes.  This saying fits in perfectly with the National Credit Union Foundation’s Experiential Learning programs.  It’s hard to understand what someone may be going through or experiencing until you place yourself in their situation; and live it yourself.

This is exactly the intention of the Foundation’s Life Simulation, an exercise designed to help credit union employees, volunteers and leadership begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month.  In the simulation, the participants assume the roles of individuals living in a family who are living just above the poverty line, and all these roles are based off of real-life people and situations. Some families are newly unemployed, some are homeless and others are senior citizens living on disability payments or raising grandchildren.

During the three hour activity, these “families” are struggling to make ends meet in the simulated month of four fifteen minute weeks.  The simulation is designed to help credit union professionals start to better understand the members they serve, and to help meet members where they are in life.  Again, it’s hard to help someone if you don’t understand what they may be going through.

Last week, the Foundation had the opportunity to host a Life Simulation for CUNA Mutual Group’s Project Management team to help sensitize them to the lives of credit union members.  I thought it would be neat to hear about the experience from a first-timer who has never even heard of the Life Simulation.  Sarah Farino is a CUNA Mutual Group employee working in the Marketing department.  Here is our conversation about her experience:

You were a volunteer in this simulation, what was your role?

“I worked in the Interfaith Services and Child Care Center for the simulation. I was in charge of the Day Care, which only a few families could afford/get into because it was selective. The Interfaith Services acted as a homeless shelter so I could help out some families who couldn’t afford housing. However, I had limited availability.  I could also help out some families who were struggling in various ways.”

What were some of things you noticed about the participants throughout the simulation?

“Some participants seemed angry and frantic – depending on their personal situation.  Others were having good fortune and were in good spirits, while others were getting evicted. It seemed like finding transportation was very stressful and was a big obstacle for most families to overcome. I had families begging me for money and it was almost impossible to tell them no even though I had limited resources.  This part was real life – I wanted to help everyone but there was only so much I had to give.”

Was there anything you learned about people who may be living paycheck to paycheck?

I didn’t realize how fortunate I am to have such easy access to transportation while others struggle daily to get from place to place. It was clear to me that many people, including our members, may not be on a bus-line, and where they work depends mainly on transportation. Many people cannot afford their own car, and they rely solely on the bus, which is unfortunately not always trustworthy. It’s such a large issue that most people don’t think about.”

What impacted you the most about being a volunteer for this simulation?

“The realization that many people aren’t aware of resources that they have access to in their community. People oftentimes don’t even know what they have available to them, resources that can really help them out if they are struggling.  I also realized through this simulation that even though they may know of the resources they have, people might not have the time or the ability to get to those resources.  It was eye opening the struggles that our members may be having that we are completely unaware of because of how fortunate we are.”

Would you recommend the Life Simulation to others?

“Definitely, I think the Life Simulation was great real world practice and really helped instill a sense of reality for what people living on a below-average household income deal with on a daily basis.”


This Life Simulation is meant to open the eyes of credit union professionals so we can help make a positive impact in others’ lives.  The Foundation is currently in the process of revamping our simulation to better represent the lives of today’s members.

In celebration of our 35th anniversary this month, we are running an online fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $35,000 to aid in the production of this new Life Simulation.  We hope you consider donating here to make this new Life Simulation available to more credit unions across the United States so we can help more members achieve financial freedom.

For more information about the Life Simulation, visit our website

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