In “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes,” audience members choose how to spend ,000. Photo from Moran Center for Youth Advocacy.

On May 14, supporters of The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy gathered for their spring benefit at Northwestern’s Barber Theater for a performance of “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes.” But this was not a typical fundraiser, and this was not a typical night at the theater.

Rather, supporters of the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy spent the evening thinking about poverty and discussing the complexities inherent in finding solutions to it. At the end of the night, the audience decided where to best allocate $1,000 to help eliminate poverty in our community.

Throughout the show, the student performers facilitated small-group discussions, projected live video of expert commentary, shared relevant data and interspersed performance art – dance, drama and song. 

The interactive experience, directed by Michael Rohd, kept the audience engaged and enthusiastic as they grappled with the enormity of the topic, the startling statistics and the real-life examples that brought to life how poverty impacts the community. A game-show-style quiz challenged the audience with questions such as “What does the government use to calculate the poverty line?” Answer: The cost of the minimum food diet in 1963 multiplied by three and adjusted for inflation.  

“When we were planning our spring benefit, we wanted to host an event that was relevant to the work of the Moran Center,” said Val Weiss, Moran Center board member.

“The work we do at the Moran Center directly impacts poverty,” said Kathy Lyons, executive director. The Moran Center began as the Evanston Community Defender Office Inc., more than 30 years ago. It provides integrated legal and social work services to low-income Evanston youth and their families, improving their quality of life at home, at school and within the community.

 “By providing advocacy for struggling youth, we can change trajectories,” Ms. Lyons said. “By helping kids overcome educational barriers and legal challenges, we break the school-to-prison pipeline that destroys lives and families.” 

The Moran Center audience had tough choices in determining where to allocate their $1,000. The categories from which to choose were daily needs, education, systemic change, making opportunities and individual need.  Although there was much debate about the categories, in the end, the majority of the Moran Center audience agreed upon systemic change, saying that is necessary in order to address poverty and impact the greatest number of lives.

“The performance shook up people’s ideas and really made them think,” said Jenny Ellis Richards, Moran Center board member.

 “While there was much debate about whether we could make a greater impact in eliminating poverty with funding a soup kitchen versus an education initiative versus an advocacy project, we all ultimately agreed that social service agencies working across all areas of need are equally critical in addressing poverty and worth supporting.”