Leadership Seacoast Walks a Mile

Unique simulation offers perspective on what it means to struggle to make ends meet.

The Community Campus gymnasium in Portsmouth, NH was bustling with activity yesterday morning, and it had nothing to do with sports. The unfolding chaos saw people running around, cradling baby dolls, riding a pretend school bus and attempting to pawn their wedding rings for fake money. It was the annual Walk-a-Mile simulation, put on by United Way of the Seacoast and experienced by the 2014 class of Leadership Seacoast.

“Walk-a-Mile offers a unique perspective into the lives of a family struggling to get by,” said Cindy Boyd, Managing Director of United Way of the Greater Seacoast. “Even if it’s just for an hour, the participants are able to get a taste of what it’s like to battle the ongoing uncertainty of how they’re going to be able to make ends meet. It’s a powerful experience.”

Thirty-six members of Leadership Seacoast were separated into different “families,” with each member given a specific role to play, be it the mom, dad or child. They were then issued a life scenario (e.g., they are homeless, unemployed, buried in debt) and given five “days” to attempt to achieve a semblance of financial stability.


To do this, they have to find work, go to school, access benefits, pay bills and negotiate unforeseen life circumstances that could turn things upside down in a hurry. At the end of the event, the group gets together to debrief and share what they learned.

“Walk-a-Mile gives our class a snapshot of what many in the Seacoast struggle with on a daily basis,” said Jennifer Wheeler, Executive Director of Leadership Seacoast. “In their day-to-day life they may not have many interactions with these types of issues and this gives them a sense of what it’s like.”

This is the fourth Walk-a-Mile event done by United Way for Leadership Seacoast. It coincides with the program’s Health and Human Services Day.

“I thought the walk-a-mile was an incredibly eye-opening experience,” said Calypso Media’s Sarah Grazier, one of the Leadership Seacoast participants.  “My ‘family’ for the simulation was homeless and we struggled to make it through the scenarios were were given. It was a really powerful way to experience the feelings of confusion, frustration and helplessness that many families in our community go through every day. After going through this process, I’m even more motivated to help those in our community who are less fortunate and are in need of our compassion and support. “