How Alma Schneider helps parents get in touch with their musical roots -- and raise thousands for charity in the process
Inspired By
Credit: Peter Yang

Parents Who Rock, a fundraising organization based in New Jersey, was more or less a side effect of Alma Schneider's longing to connect with her musical past. You know how it is: one day, you're this interesting, creative young person, then you get bogged down in adulthood, in raising kids, and you wonder what ever happened to your sparkle. At least Alma, a social worker and sometime singer/songwriter, did. "I started having kids, then slowly but surely I stopped playing altogether." Plus, there was the pressure of raising a child with special needs (one of her children has Prader-Willi syndrome), and she craved musical relief from the stress. So after the 2004 tsunami, Alma convinced the owner of a local club to host a charity concert featuring parent musicians. She gathered eight acts, and they packed the house and raised nearly a thousand dollars. A star was born (a lot of stars, actually: more than 100 parents now participate), along with a great fundraising idea. The group's biggest project to date: helping to raise $200,000 for a universally accessible playground that accommodates kids with special needs. "It was all such a whirlwind of goodness and joy!" Alma says, with her trademark enthusiasm. "It still is."

When Alma's not rocking, she's running Take Back the Kitchen, counseling people to approach cooking fearlessly. And keeping an eye on her community's most vulnerable populations. "We just ran a campaign to provide food and grocery gift cards to kids aging out of foster care who have college scholarships, to keep them afloat over the summer." We caught up with her to ask about the importance of creativity -- for all ages.

Why do you think it's key to have a creative outlet?

Whatever you do, it's so vital to incorporate your passions into your daily life, to do something that's meaningful to you for a cause that's meaningful to you; to tap into the passions of your youth. That doesn't mean doing back-handsprings if you were into gymnastics as a kid! You just have to think outside the box, figure out how to connect with the things that excite you.

Is that why all these parents are so drawn to Parents Who Rock?

Music -- performing music -- is really exhilarating. You lose that kind of excitement and freedom as you get older. You get a lot more inhibited. You're an adult with all these responsibilities, and there are so few ways to express yourself. So it's very liberating to perform. It's sort of a rebirth of your adolescence, an acceptable way to act out.

But how did you move parents past their initial inhibitions?

I contacted our local paper and asked them to write an article about the first show. Then people started contacting me very sheepishly. I made home visits -- remember, I'm a therapist! -- and sat and talked to them. I pulled out my guitar so that they could practice singing. Because it was a fundraiser, their comfort level was a little higher. It's for a good cause, after all; that makes people feel safe. And it's not all about you and your desire to perform, it's about raising money for your community. The fundraising aspect also gives people permission to play.

What's in it for the kids of all these rocking parents?

So many people grow up with performance anxiety, it's great for kids to see their parents doing something that's not typical of adults, something that gives their parents confidence. My kids do make fun of me sometimes, but they're proud that I'm in a band. I'm hoping it shows them that you can keep growing and being engaged, keep doing what you love.

Alma's tips for raising lots and lots of money:

1. Be passionate. Your cause must be something you really care about and that you can get others to care about, too.2. Keep it tangible. Set a specific goal that donors can work toward, like a new playground.3. Offer different ways to pitch in. Some people will be able to give more of their time and talent than money. Sliding-scale tickets let the entire community contribute.4. Network. Seek as much publicity for events as possible.5. Take risks. Never be afraid to think big by asking major corporations or influential people to get involved. They just might want to help!

Originally published in the September 2013 issue of FamilyFun

Family Fun