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Rock Corps – Saving The World Never Sounded So Good

Submitted by on 26 Jun 2007 – 5:29 PM Comments

Many of the best ideas happen organically, nurtured by necessity, proximity, and inspiration. Only looking back can you spot the revolutionary overtones. Such is the case with Rock Corps, a new concept in youth volunteerism that is literally rocking the world of non-profit orgs throughout America. The concept is simple – you donate four hours of your time to a worthy community organization, and you get to go to a free concert in your area courtesy of Boost Mobile. Past concerts have included red-hot artists such as Kanye West, Green Day, Coldplay, and Fabolous.

Music, youth culture, and civic-mindedness don’t always fit neatly together, but a few years ago an idea that grew out of the music scene in Telluride, Colorado, took off and is now changing the way that community organizations across the country find passionate youths willing to donate time in their neck of the woods. movmnt spoke with Stephen Greene, the CEO of Rock Corps in Los Angeles, and he gave us the lowdown on this intriguing hybrid of nonprofit altruism and corporate marketing.

“Mid 90′s, two of our founders were concert promoter s in Telluride. Telluride has music festivals in the summer – bluegrass, jazz, everything – They would always give away fifty or a hundred tickets to town residents to do some of the jobs that needed doing at the festival – taking out the trash barrels, putting up the fencing, whatever – they were always \ blown away by how much work people would do for a free concert ticket. So they thought, why don’t we do a show one of these weekends in Telluride where we give the whole thing away?” The result was a series of projects spearheaded by a local group called Greenbucks, and the response was nothing short of inspiring. It turned out that, post-9/11, kids are chomping at the bit to do something meaningful with their lives, and the added incentive of the free concert just makes the decision that much cooler and that much easier. The concept spread with successful shows in Boulder and Austin before finding a home in Los Angeles.

Bring People Closer

Stephen explained, “The rest of the founders met up shortly after September 11th. Our group of friends was a lot like everybody else, not satisfied with the President saying just go back to life as normal. We thought there was a real opportunity here to do something to bring people closer together and in closer contact with their community and their neighborhoods. We loved the idea. Another one of our friends is video music director Chris Robinson. Chris has a ton of contacts, especially in hip-hop. So we decided, let’s re-brand it, call it Rock Corps, and target urban centers. Go from inside the cities and work out. Then we got hooked up with our sponsor, Boost Mobile, about two years ago.” Boost Mobile, a youth-oriented cell phone company, had an active interest in connecting with their target audience in a meaningful way, so the idea was a win-win for everyone involved. Far from minimizing the corporate component of what they do, Stephen thinks it’s a natural fit. “We don’t run a non-profit. We’re more of a strict production company,” he explains. “We don’t get any funding from any foundations or individuals. In fact, a lot of our funding goes back to the community, goes back to the organizations that we charter with. All of our funding comes from our corporate sponsors’ marketing budgets.”

Got 2 Give 2 Get

Cynics might see this corporate aspect as a troubling one for the youth involved, but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. “There’s a great research company called Youth Intelligence,” Stephen told us. “Their recent study asked, who do you think is most likely to be able to change the world? Was it politicians, was it government, was it non-profit organizations, was it corporations? 78% of the respondents said it was corporations.” This is not a strictly anti-establishment generation, it seems. It makes sense when you think about it. In a world where governments seem less and less able to perform the basic functions required of them, the corporate world has an active interest in keeping their employees somewhat happy and healthy. In major metropolitan areas, corporate employees have grown to rely on robust insurance plans, flexible partnership benefits, and holistic health programs that are encouraged from above to keep the work force energetic and alive. Most major fundraising events now have huge contingents of corporate-sponsored teams who walk, run, or dance the night away at benefits that make the world a slightly better place in which to live. “The Man,” often caricatured as a cigar-smoking corporate fat cat, is now younger, slimmer, and more interested in the world around him.

Relying on word of mouth, recruiting at concerts and clubs, and the internet, Rock Corps boasts that they have grown from six thousand volunteers to ten thousand this year, and they expect to see that number grow to fifteen thousand next year. They held programs in eight different cities last year and expect to be in up to thirteen next year. They work currently with sixty different organizations, and hold contests among their volunteers to find new ones. Marilyn Holm, a young volunteer from New York, suggested cleaning up Rufus King Park in Jamaica, Queens. Rock Corps took on the project. This kind of active participation model seems to be working small miracles in the non-profit world. For example, in DC, a Fairfax City organization saw thirty of the ninety Rock Corps volunteers come back again on their own the following year. Turns out it’s not just about getting a free concert.

Peace and Love

Lifting the non-profit volunteer model out of the crusty cliches of the “peace and love” generation is probably the biggest achievement of Rock Corps. It blows away many of the tired myths of public service by merging community activism with a slick corporate model for energizing the youth market and giving them a reason to get excited about cleaning up their environment. The concerts then become something a bit more than just a good night out. They are the reward, but they are also the bond that connects the youth volunteers.

Stephen elaborated on this by noting that “the real vision of Rock Corps is: you do your four hours, you’ve picked up your city, your block, your community, and then you come and celebrate that with five thousand other people that did the same thing. I may be a rock fan, and you may be a hip-hop fan, but our four hours is very much the equalizer. So it’s a real coming together at these concerts.” Inspiring youth to do community service, and then helping them celebrate in an atmosphere that emphasizes common bonds? Maybe there’s something to that peace and love stuff after all.

D. Michael Taylor
Wiki about Rockcorps