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Fighting Poverty With Music

Mike Killeen founded Poverty is Real -- an organization that's putting on fund-raising shows this weekend at Eddie's Attic.

Mike Killeen wanted to give back to the community, but working in a soup kitchen didn't excite him.

He turned to his passion: music. Killeen founded Poverty Is Real (PIR), a group that's putting on at , the folk club in Decatur.

The goal is to raise $10,000 for , which helps poor and homeless people in DeKalb County.

Since organizing its first show last summer, PIR has evolved into a full-fledged organization with an operational board, a fund-raising wing and a business plan. They'll do four events for this year -- Decatur, Athens, Asheville and Nashville -- and are shooting for 10 events next year.

On another level, PIR is a bunch of friends having fun together. Some of the board members will perform this weekend, including Killeen. He's recorded several records.

"People do well at things they're good at," Killeen said. "More hours is not more work at something you love."

Spencer Smith, a lawyer on the PIR board, said the organization succeeds because "it brings a community together in celebration rather than bringing out the do-gooders who'd be there anyway. I think of it as an amplifier of community good will."

Killeen, 33, realized there were haves and have-nots while growing up as a professor's kid in Athens, Georgia. Sometimes his folks gave Little League teammates a ride home.

"Their houses looked a lot different than mine," he said. "It was very disturbing."

He went to the University of Georgia, played in folk-rock bands, graduated and took a job as marketing director for Lenz, a marketing firm in Decatur. Poverty stayed on his mind and his wife, Jessica, urged him to take action, not just talk about it.

He put together a solo show at Eddie's Attic and raised about $1,200 for DCM. High on the feeling of success, he enlisted friends and formed Poverty is Real. They put on shows last year at Eddie's Attic and the 40-Watt Club in Athens.

The synergy grew, but Killeen realized his idea needed structure if it was going to be sustainable. He came up with a couple of guiding principles.

All proceeds from shows will go to anti-poverty groups, not the organization. Once PIR plays in a city, it will come back the next year. If somebody makes a donation, PIR promises to leverage that into double the money the next year.

Lenz is a big booster and serves as the presenting sponsor for the Eddie's Attic shows. Killeen recruited many friends with different skills to serve on the operational board. One is Scott Sanders, Lenz creative director, who said in an email:

"Being involved with PIR is a perfect combination of things that interest me: Helping people in need, music, design and photography. I provide creative direction for Poverty is Real. I assist in the marketing and promotion of PIR with the design of shirts, posters, interactive graphics, plus I photograph the events."

DCR Executive Director Beth Vann-Turnbull calls Killeen "the visionary behind Poverty is Real" and said the group differs from other donors.

"First, PIR is equally committed to raising awareness AND raising funds," she said. "Although many groups strive to do both, few are as successful as PIR. Second, PIR is led and supported by a number of young professionals. They have the connections and know-how to spread the word about homelessness and DCM to a brand new group of people, many of whom are young and highly motivated to get involved in our mission."

Killeen has high hopes for PIR. The five-year plan is to play 79 events in 28 communities and raise $1.4 million for local anti-poverty groups. He's kind of amazed at the success.

"I've had so many crackpot ideas," he said, "and this one has taken off."

Susan Puckett July 27, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Sounds like a great cause and a fun time. I have never met Mike, but I admire the fact that he has taken serious action to try to parlay his passions and skills into a cause he believes in. If more people took that kind of initiative, I think the world would be a better place. I am looking forward to the concert!
Charles July 27, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I, too, can attest to Mike's questionable role and effectiveness. He's simply a piggybacker. Unfortunately, this article will inevitably inflate his ego further. @Jaberson: I agree with the comical, markedly obtuse tone of his comment re: "their" houses looking "different" than his own. How stolid can one get? How can someone (someone on the BOARD of this organization, no less) be so diminishing of this situation as to reduce the scope, effect, and manifestation of poverty to someone's house simply looking different than his own!? Is that poverty? Really? Do you drive by houses, notice they look a lil different than yours, and think to yourself "oh geez, vinyl siding...they must be poor". Lovin the bovine, imperceptive viewpoint. Solvin problems! Gettin it done!
Lindsey July 27, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I'm so happy to see Mike's vision coming to fruition here. What better way to create camaraderie than through the world's common ground, music? I can attest to the integrity of the folks behind PIR and look forward to contributing any way I'm able. As with all great efforts (and subsequent success), one is sure to face adversity. Keep up the great work Mike; you're truly making a difference.
Lindsey July 27, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Also, @Jaberson and @Charles, I think it's important to recognize that Mike's comment regarding the look of others' houses was in regards to his perception as a child. A perception that many of us, including myself, had as children. And ultimately, the perception that, years later, has evolved into a massive and dedicated effort to make a positive impact on the lives of the less fortunate.
Suzan July 28, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Jaberson and Charles: I think you have too much time on your hands to feel the need to even post a comment like yours. Go take your negative energy and do something positive for the community as Mike is doing very successfully.

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