Rock Out takes aim at cancer

Charity reaches out to needy in Franklin Square and beyond


With only a few days left until the big day, Rock Out Cures Inc.’s executive board members gathered at the Plattdeutsche Park Restaurant in Franklin Square last week to make sure that everything was set for their annual benefit concert on Sept. 22.

Originally, Rock Out Cures focused on fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Now, a decade later, it has expanded to include both charities and local

individuals in need, be-

coming much more than

what founder and President Bryan Mayer had originally imagined.

“We’ve grown every year,” Mayer said. “We had about 240 people come out the first time and raised around $10,000. Last year about 3,000 people showed up, and we’ve raised more than $500,000 in these 10 years.”

Bands come together

ROC’s executive board now has 11 members, and is recognized in the local communities. Originally, though, the charity was begun by only four men — almost by chance.

Mayer and his friend James Gangone had hung out at the Plattdeutsche restaurant for years. One day, they heard a rock band playing in the back of the restaurant. Both men had friends and family members who had been stricken by cancer, and after hearing the band, they decided to hold a concert to benefit the American Cancer Society.

After receiving a letter from the ACS supporting the idea, Mayer and Gangone approached Plattdeutsche Manager Matt Buck and told him about their idea for a concert. The restaurant often partners with local nonprofits to host events, so teaming up with Rock Out Cancer — ROC’s name at the time — seemed natural. But getting enough people to attend the concert to fill Plattdeutsche’s space was a challenge, leading Mayer and Gangone to reach out to their friend Thomas Orlandino for help.

“Tom knows everyone, and sure enough, they always owe him something,” Gangone joked.

As Buck readied the restaurant’s space for the first concert in September of 2008, Mayer, Gangone and Orlandino set about collecting everything they needed for a successful event. But they immediately faced an obstacle when they couldn’t find enough bands. Mayer and Gangone spent long nights chasing bands to convince them to play at the benefit. They found few takers.

“They’re used to being paid for gigs, so they weren’t into the idea of playing for free,” Gangone explained.

They were, however, able to get a few local bands, such as 6Gun5 and Sisterblind, who volunteered to play. Then came what Orlandino still calls the most grueling part: setting up and working the stage and venue. From early morning until the last guest left, the men labored 24 straight hours until they finished cleaning up the restaurant. Orlandino chuckled remembering the chaos of putting it all together. After, everyone felt relieved that it all worked out, he said.

“Leaps of faith is what it took to get all this together,” Orlandino said.

As ROC’s organizers became more skilled at creating successful fundraisers, its board members’ desire to help others grew as well. A few years later, Mayer began donating to the Long Island chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Food Allergy Research and Education group, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America’s VetDogs-Veteran’s K-9 Corps Inc.

Mayer and Gangone discussed expanding ROC’s efforts, beyond donating to different organizations, after the group became a full-fledged charity. The two understood that part of their donations would help nonprofits pay for operations and staff, but they wanted to find a way to bypass that and directly help those who needed it the most.

“So, in the last five years, we started giving checks directly to members of the community who were in trouble or needed help paying for their treatments,” Mayer said.

After donating to the five principal charities that ROC supports, the group seeks out people in need, both in and out of the community, including local residents who have moved out of state. They have helped raise funds for student scholarships at Sewanhaka and H. Frank Carey high schools; bought bikes for children with disabilities; loaded and helped charter helicopters for hurricane relief; and helped clean up and rebuild houses for Hurricane Sandy first responders.

Franklin Square resident Josephine Detz, who runs the Susan’s Closet nonprofit for children, wrote in a thank-you letter how much it meant to her that ROC donated new toys to the organization that she founded in memory of her late daughter.

“Words escape me, and I am overwhelmed with emotions and gratitude,” Detz wrote to ROC. “Please know that this donation will go a long way and put smiles on the faces of many children in hospitals and shelters.”

Gangone also recalled that after one of the benefits, the organization only had a few hundred dollars left for a woman whose house had burned down. The next year, the woman returned to the concert and, as a thank you for the group’s help, donated twice what they had given her. Moments like these, Gangone said, strengthened ROC’s commitment to direct giving.

“It really shows you what kind of communities and people we have here,” Gangone said. “This is really just about people coming together to help each other.”

The philanthropic spirit fostered by ROC has brought its board members a great deal of satisfaction, with many friends, old and new, joining in the cause. With 11 members on the group’s executive board, it has now become a bit easier to manage each fundraiser — most of the time.

Before the end of their most recent meeting, board members argued about whether they should wear matching shirts to the event. It was the most heated discussion of the night, until the irony hit members. A group that could raise thousands of dollars through a massive fundraiser could not get 11 people to wear the same shirts for one day? They immediately broke into laughter.

“This group brought a lot of us back together,” Gangone said, “and it unites us and keeps us together.”