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Rocking Out with Anti-Poverty Activism

Aimee Holtzman Hits the Right Chord

Glance quickly at Aimee Holtzman’s mounting press clips, or scroll through her Facebook page, and you might think this Jericho, Long Island mom has spent the past six years waiting by the back stage door. Here’s Aimee beaming with Graham Nash. And there’s David Crosby. That’s her, all smiles with Bret Michaels.  Wait, it’s Sarah Bareilles and Aimee laughing like they’re gal pals. And isn’t that Devon Allman?  Or Aimee and Lilly, as in Tomlin.

But this music-loving dynamo is no post-50-year-old groupie. In fact she is the rock star, of sorts. Members of iconic bands are lining up to show support for her can-do charitable mission, Rock Can Roll, that has turned popular concerts into a way to end hunger. RCR enjoins the audience to show up with healthy, non-perishable canned goods and needed funds for food pantries and other agencies.

Aimee is a front of the house tour-de-force and upfront personality who has harnessed the quintessential make the world better with and peace, love and understanding messages of rock and roll.  And she’s transported those ideals from dreamy well-meaning lyrics, into purposeful action. “When people donate they feel good about themselves too,” she points out. “Everyone CAN do something.”

Aimee and her team of volunteers have brought Rock Can Roll to an audience that cares and that lives the group’s credo: “Help Out While You Rock Out.” In AARP members she sees the potential of a vast and ready audience of inspired volunteers who grew up with rock and roll, believe in helping others and love the motivation of a good cause.

What began at Long Island’s NYCB Westbury with concerts and grew to include headliners like Train, the Goo Goo Dolls, Maroon 5, Jackson Browne and now Joe Walsh, today also extends to many events at local schools and small concert venues.  Rock Can Roll has gathered participating sites from Boston to Los Angeles.  Donations directly address local needs. “There is always someone hungry within five miles of any concert,” Holtzman notes.

She rattles off rock and roll refrains that appeal to our best selves like “We can Change the World” or “Feed the People.”   “That was the playlist of my life,” she says.  She describes herself as a lifelong volunteer and part of generation in deeply moved by rock music.  As a young parent who moved around the country far from familial roots, Holtzman recalls, “Community service was the safest place for me.  It’s where I could feel I belong.” A doer, a giver and a never-takes-no-for-an-answer real life action figure, Holtzman sees every day as a new opportunity to reach the goal of eradicating hunger.  Her message is often simple. When her work puts her face to face with big name rockers for those photo ops, she says, “All I can say when I meet them is thank you, thank you.”

But when it comes to the general public, Holtzman’s casual conversations, infused with her special dose of personal enthusiasm, can get big results.  “I’ve figured out a way to talk to anybody,” she says. Holtzman attracted ongoing donations from a large food company, almost inadvertently, when she agreed to a one-time pick up of unused trade show items that turned out to be giant palettes of packaged food.  “We were talking briefly before the concert,” she recalls. “It happened just like that.”

A natural fundraiser, Holtzman is eyeing the next step, scaling the organization so fighting hunger does not have to be a hand-to-mouth effort.  “I want a sugar daddy”, she admits, describing the need for a major underwriter to take the philanthropy to another level. Optimism sets her rhythm as she repeats her mantra: “Everyone loves rock and roll, and everyone CAN make a difference.”

Written by: Joan Lebow is a writer who especially likes to ask all kinds of people questions about where they've been and where they're headed. She's been a  reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Crain's NY Business, and worked as a communications strategist and spokesperson for New York City and New York State, Mount Sinai Hospital, Atlantic Health System and Wireless Generation.

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