The organization also seeks to build empathy and facilitate more effective service through its Poverty Escape Room, which recently reopened after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of the escape room is twofold, according to Brad Stephens, the executive director of REACH.
“It’s a mix of fun and education,” Stephens said. “We want to educate people about the psychological stress of being in poverty. But it’s hard to even have a conversation about poverty these days. He feels too big to engage with. So by making it fun, we can hopefully reach more people and facilitate these vital conversations. Otherwise, no one will show up. So it’s really a way to engage people in a conversation that they wouldn’t normally have about poverty, but also to have a good time and foster connections.
The REACH escape room involved a series of clues. All students, as well as staff and faculty members who were also invited to participate, had to find the answer for each clue before moving on to the next clue, with the last clue leading to escaping the room. However, this escape room had a special feature in that each group had to have a certain amount of money to win the game.
The game featured a combination of checkout and bill paying over a 50-minute period. Every five minutes, Stephens collected bill payments or paid the band their salary (using counterfeit money, of course), and he also had them draw a card. Cards can mean paying extra expenses or, on the contrary, being a means of supplementing the income of the group, which can happen in real situations.
“I think there was a moment where I was counting the money, and it was real,” said VTCSOM freshman Alex In. “I remember this stress of, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to pay for this.’ … They’ve done a good job of adding that pressure and making us feel a bit of what people are going through in terms of finances, and I’m sure it’s 10 times more stressful than playing a game. put into perspective that there are people around us who are going through this.
Although just a game, an escape room requires contestants to use logic, deduce clues, follow their instincts, and collaborate. They must be aware of the environment and be able to think outside the box. And perhaps most importantly, each competitor must be able to convince others when to call if that person is strongly convinced of an answer or position.