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."