Grades 6-12

Focus: Social Awareness


To develop a deeper understanding of the daily challenges faced by those living in poverty – and how to bring attention to the need for lasting solutions to the problems of poverty in the United States.


Have you ever experienced poverty? Some of us have lived it firsthand. Others of us have only passed it on the street. How closely you have seen poverty, touched it, experienced it, colors your perception of what it is like to actually live in poverty.

What does it mean to be living in poverty in America today? Ask your group to take turns reading these quotes from people living in poverty. To emphasize and add drama, turn off the lights and shine a dim flashlight on the group members’ faces as they read, avoiding their eyes.

“It’s feeling that normal daily challenges are magnified one hundred times more because I am that many more times powerless.”

“It’s things that you want you can’t have, places you want to live and can’t. We all have needs; being poor, those needs can’t be met.”

“Not being able to support my family on my income level. I grew up this way and thought it would be better for my family.”

“Being poor means not getting the same chances and needing to fight for everything.”

“Being poor means living is harder and quitting is easier.”

“It’s being almost invisible to almost everyone.”

“Being without what the middle class takes for granted.”

“Being poor in America is like going hungry at a banquet. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.”

“It feels like you’re looked down on, regardless of the reason for poverty.”

“On TV, life is seen as a workable situation. In reality it is a struggle just to put food on the table and pay for the necessities of life.”

“People with high paying jobs don’t understand your problems.”

“Being poor in America means working till you hurt and always coming up short.”

“It’s being scared and afraid not knowing what tomorrow will be like.”
(Source: Catholic Campaign for Human Development Poverty in America Survey, 2001.)

Right now in the United States, 43.1 million people are living in a state of poverty. And of that total, more than 14.5 million are children under the age of 18. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people under the age of 18 have a higher poverty rate than those in any other age group. That’s nearly one out of every five children in America, living in a state of poverty, “scared and afraid, not knowing what tomorrow will be like.”


Activity 1: “Sharing the Message”

One of the most effective ways of addressing the problem of poverty in America is through community education. Have your group organize their own educational campaign focusing on children in poverty in America today. The campaign materials could be displayed in the local schools, public libraries or other community settings. Begin by having your group research the issue of child poverty in the United States using magazine and newspaper articles, the Web site, and other resources to learn more about the plight of America’s poor.

Share with your group the the multimedia gallery of, or read the following radio script to the group:

“It’s not about the children who dream too much…or dare too much…or laugh or love or hope too much. It’s about the one out of every five children in America today who wants just enough. Just enough food to stop the hunger. Just enough medicine to make the sickness go away. Just enough shelter to be safe and warm. Just enough of a chance to succeed in school, at home, in life. Just enough…to let a kid be a kid. Because, right now in America, one out of every five children is living in a state of poverty. And that’s just one child too many. Poverty. For 46 million men, women and children across this abundant nation, it’s a daily struggle just to survive. Poverty. America’s forgotten state.”

Then have your group create their own posters, flyers or print advertisements to run in your group’s newsletter, the local school newspaper or a similar outlet. Or have your group create their own videotaped commercials to air over a local cable channel or their school’s audio-visual networks. Organize a “poverty fair” at a back-to-school night or group assembly. Invite family and friends and hold poster sessions of your group’s projects, providing an opportunity for your group members to talk about what they have learned, showcase their projects, and bring greater awareness about the problems of poverty to their own community.

Activity 2: “In Your Own Words”

First-hand accounts of life in the state of poverty help us to begin to see the faces behind the statistics – and to understand the brutal realities experienced by 43.1 million Americans today. Have group members research and find real stories featuring people living in poverty. Then, have them speak aloud in the first person – in the voice of someone living in poverty – telling the particulars of that person’s life. Personalizing the statements can make for a powerful and moving discussion of the real-life struggles of people living in poverty.

Activity 3:

Have your students visit and follow the instructions below:

Take the Poverty Quiz. Record your score. Were there any facts presented in the quiz that surprised you? Explain.

Take the tour of Poverty USA. Of the items shown, which would probably be reduced or eliminated all together in order to make ends meet?

Read “Poverty Facts: The State of Poverty in America.”

  • How many people live in poverty in America?
  • How is the poverty rate changing? How about the number of people living in poverty?
  • Which groups are hit hardest by poverty?
  • Are the percentages of men and women living in poverty the same?
  • Which minorities are most likely to experience poverty?
  • What is your income, before taxes, if you work full-time at a minimum wage job?
  • What is the poverty threshold for your family?

Go to Get Involved. How can you help?

Go to Stories of Hope. Read about some of the projects that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development supports.

Write your reflections on what you learned in this exercise.

Based on an activity created by Jane Elfring, a teacher at Paul VI High School in Fairfax, VA, for use in her social justice class. For more information on this or other projects on raising awareness of poverty in the U.S., contact us.

Activity 4: Learning about Housing and Homelessness

Audience: Adults working with youth/teens (primary) and youth/teens (secondary)

Recommended Learning Objectives: Using data, activities and reflection the Learning Unit will help youth/teens to:

  • Break myths and stereotypes about who is homeless in America and why.
  • Expand their view of the problem in ways that raise awareness of the cycle of poverty and structural causes for inadequate housing. This includes lack of adequate, affordable housing, as well as the condition of homelessness.
  • Increase understanding and empathy about what it means to lack a basic human necessity, specifically, adequate housing.
  • Use the issue of housing/homelessness to provide a hopeful and inspiring contemporary view of effective, community action for social justice.
  • Offer concrete actions that youth/teens can take to participate in creating housing justice in their community.

Help youth/teens answer compelling questions such as:

  • Who is homeless in the USA?
  • Why are so many Americans homeless?
  • What is it like for youth/teens to be homeless in America?
  • What is the housing crisis in America and what communities are affected?

Provide resources that will:

  • Describe some real life solutions to the housing crisis in various U.S. communities.
  • Give examples of empowered homeless Americans, specifically including youth/teens.
  • Identify resources for further information and action.

Use Stories of Hope and the Poverty Map as Resources: Explore the Stories of Hope and groups listed in the map to see how groups across the country are fighting for housing rights and helping the homeless.

Activity 5: Multi-Media Youth Contest

A program for young people in grades 7-12 to learn about poverty in the U.S., its causes and the response of the Church. After learning, youth become educators of others through their work of any medium (song, video, painting, writing, etc.) Explore the contest.

Activity 6: Stack of the Deck Game

Volunteers from the audience and three decks of cards help to identify some of the root causes of poverty. Download the PDF (0.3 MB).

Activity 7: Take a Step Activity

Asks participants to step forward or backward in response to a series of questions in order to illustrate the “unequal playing field” that benefits some while making it more likely that others will be left behind. Download the PDF (0.3 MB).

Additional Activities

Middle-school-aged groups (Grades 6-8) should also refer to the “One in Five” activity contained in the Grades K-5 section.

High-school-aged groups (Grades 6-12) should see the “Hard Living on the Poverty Line” and “Myths, Facts and Action Against Poverty in America” activities located in the Adult Education section of this Web site.

Get Involved

Encourage your group members to extend their community education campaigns outside of the classroom by writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, sharing information uncovered by their research on children living in poverty in America today. Have your group contact a local reporter to cover the community education campaigns created by your group – and to report on their efforts to bring awareness to the issue of children in poverty. Or have your group members identify legislators at the local, state and federal level, to share their campaigns or research findings – and suggest actions that legislators could take to help bring awareness of and solutions to the problems of poverty in their communities.

Or sponsor a school debate on living wage laws, gun control or drug control laws or other issues impacting the quality of life in poor communities in your area. Such point-counterpoint dialogues can be a positive means of opening new avenues of insight into the greater problems of poverty – and of discovering new pathways to solutions.

For more information about getting involved in your community, visit our Get Involved page, or find a CCHD-funded group near you.

Learn More

Explore Poverty USA

Stories of Hope: Read about how local groups are helping to fight domestic poverty and making a difference. Read the stories.

Poverty Quiz: Test your knowledge of the current state of poverty in America with this self-corrected, online quiz. Take the quiz.

Poverty USA Tour: Take a multimedia tour of the hard financial choices faced by millions of Americans living in poverty. Watch the tour.

Poverty Facts: A collection of facts about the state of poverty in America that illuminates understanding, including the Top Ten Poverty Rates of U.S. cities, counties and states. Get the facts.

Additional Resources

Chicken Run is a delightful clay animation tale about a plucky English chicken and her hen pals who, with the help of a flying Yankee rooster, must escape the cruel clutches of an egg farmer intent on turning them into chicken pies. (2000)

To learn more about fight against global poverty, visit Catholics Confront Global Poverty, a joint initiative of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.