Empathy Tools

To imagine, create, and implement practical solutions to Tennessee’s challenges, we need to understand the community landscape. This demands real, candid conversations about things like poverty, privilege, and economic inequality.

To do this, we use “empathy tools” which facilitate new ways of thinking and understanding.  One of the best is the Poverty Simulation.


The Poverty Simulation

Kate recognized the essential role of the Poverty Simulation tool in the public education conversation after her own simulation experience as part of a Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Report Card Committee orientation. This three-hour immersive experience has been used to help teachers understand the impact of poverty on families, on students, and on critical community resources, including education, transportation, and housing.

To make the Poverty Simulation available to community leaders as well as their colleagues, Ezell Consulting partners with MNPS, Catholic Charities, and other nonprofit poverty simulation hosts to make the experience accessible to companies and organizations whose leadership and employees will benefit from deeper insight into the realities of Nashville’s poorest citizens.

Read on to explore the feedback of these sample Poverty Simulation participants, a group of Nashville leaders, as they experienced what it’s like to be a parent, an immigrant, or a child living in poverty.


Kate Ezell is a certified Community Action Poverty Simulation™ facilitator (CAPS). This tool, developed by the Missouri Community Action Network, is designed to help sensitize community participants to the realities of poverty. Click here to access our Poverty Simulation fact sheet and here to review data on Tennessee’s poverty by the numbers. Interested in hosting an event for employees, volunteers, or organization stakeholders? Contact Kate.



What participants are saying: 

Insights, takeaways, and reflections on a recent Poverty Simulation designed for Metro-Nashville educators.

What we learned is that families, who are living in poverty, have a whole lot of grit that a lot of us don’t have. They have bravery, determination, and creativity. They’re making ends meet, and they do care about their kids.
— Participant
School just seemed like total chaos. We were hungry and it was stressful. The teacher was trying to teach us something but I couldn’t comprehend. I was supposed to do the test, but I just started writing on my test that I was hungry.
— Student role
As the mother of three children who didn’t speak English, the feeling of inadequacy and the inability to comfort and help accommodate my children was really, really stressful. I [felt] a really deep sense of despair based on a set of circumstances.
— Parent role
Towards the end, I forgot about my children. I didn’t even know where my family was; I was just trying to accomplish daily tasks and pay the mortgage. I didn’t even think about them, and I just noticed that.
— Parent role
The teacher was doing the things you think the teacher should be doing, but we were all so engrossed with the problems that we had that when she would try to infiltrate some fun things for us and it was so distracting and upsetting.
— Student role
It really came to life what people in poverty have to deal with because you think, sort of naively, that they can focus when they’re in school, but I couldn’t focus in school because school was, as all of us have said, so chaotic! That was a real, awakening experience for me.
— Participant
Everything was just like, ‘I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what I am supposed to write on my test!?’ I can’t actually imagine how students learn when they’re going through that.
— Student role

Tennessee’s Poverty Statistics

In Tennessee, we have serious work to do to improve the lives of our residents. To put it into perspective, here are a few statistics: 

How many people live below the poverty line in Tennessee?
According TalkPoverty.org in 2018, 980,284 out of Tennessee’s total population of 6,555,389 live in poverty. Tennessee is ranked 41st in the country.

What percentage of our state accounts for the 6.5 million people?
15% of Tennessee residents currently live at or below the poverty line. In Nashville, nearly one in five city residents was at or below the federal poverty guideline, according to a city analysis released in January 2018.

How many are children?
For 2018, the federal poverty threshold was $24,340 for a family of four with two children; 20.9% of children are poor in Tennessee. Tennessee is ranked 41st in the country.