"Medical students are behind the successful Rock for Riley benefit

It’s 11 p.m. on a Friday night and a group of medical students are gathered in a living room signing, stuffing and stamping hundreds of envelopes. This is no marathon study session but a bunch of students giving it their best philanthropic shot. By day they are doctors in training, but in their sparse free time they are the students behind Rock for Riley.

Three years ago, friends and fellow medical students Joe Frank and Greg Berman started Rock for Riley, a student-run organization dedicated to raising money for Riley Children’s Hospital. Today, there are roughly 15 core members operating in committee and chair positions dubbing themselves The Band. In addition, there are about 50 students participating at different levels throughout the year, respectfully called roadies. Most of these future physicians have spent time at Riley and they see firsthand how special a place it is. Riley is one of the top children’s hospitals in the country. More than 200,000 families from all over the state turn to Indiana’s only comprehensive children’s hospital. The hospital prides itself on the fact that no child is turned away. So every little bit helps and Rock for Riley is trying to do its part.

Brian Meek, third year med student and one of this year’s co-presidents, says that, like most people, the music is what first drew him. Meek found Rock for Riley during his first year of medical school when he went to the inaugural show. Despite his busy schedule, he thinks it’s important do something outside his own work that makes a difference, so he got involved.

The other half of the presidency belongs to Whitney Pratt, who has a personal interest in the organization. “I’m a Riley kid. I also love live music and trying to bring in great music for a great cause. Those two aspects of my life just came together.” She came to the group wanting to expand the Rock for Riley organization beyond just the School of Medicine. This year she has helped incorporate other IUPUI programs.

Herron has been a huge help to the organization. Herron student John Rau created all the print ads, press packet, T-shirts, posters and collaborated with the School of New Media to create a Web site. Armed with a new look and a fancy new Web site, The Band was able to expand their fund-raising efforts.

One question Meek often gets is, why Riley Hospital when there are plenty of other health organizations that could use some extra cash?

Meek says the answer is pretty simple. Riley is the place they chose to focus their attention on. “People say why not raise $200,000 and open up a clinic — and that’s completely valid. That’s something another IU medical student can do, and they do those sorts of things. You can only concentrate so much on a certain subject and when this started three years ago it was Riley and it’s going to stay Riley.”

Raising money for Riley

It’s always a good thing to raise money for an organization like Riley Hospital — and involving music just sweetens the deal. Rock for Riley had its first concert in 2004 at the Vogue with Carl Densen’s Tiny Universe. The organization was green, but with help from the Vogue they pulled it off and raised $26,000. In 2005, Wilco played and they raised $223,000: a 1,000 percent growth. So here we are in 2006 and they have been working hard all year. They took a realistic approach to this year’s donation expectation and set a new five-year goal of raising $1 million.

The money raised goes straight to Riley’s Children’s Fund and comes from several sources, including doctors and departments from the Indiana School of Medicine, the friends and family letter campaign asking for donations and local businesses that may be interested in contributing support. Joe Frank, Rock for Riley co-founder, said people that are most eager to support Rock for Riley have been directly affected by Riley.

Meek said 95 percent of the work they do is not related to the concert. The concert serves as something tangible for people to get behind. Most of their time is spent asking for money, getting the word out about what they are about.

They started with a wish list that included such acts as Gnarls Barkley and Beck. The list began to shrink for a number of reasons: Maybe the artists weren’t touring, or they were too expensive, or maybe dates didn’t fit with their schedule. After months of uncertainty and with the help of a local PR firm, Live 360, the stars must have aligned and My Morning Jacket will be playing this year.

Frank said, “There is such a thing as good music, and people would disagree on what that is, but the people with Rock for Riley have our own ideas and we want to have bands who do something good, something worth hearing, something worth being a part of and bring them to Indianapolis.” My Morning Jacket seems to be a perfect fit with Rock for Riley. Meek says, “We have an identity of having influential music that has a feel of importance and artistic quality.”

Rock for Riley is an ever-changing organization. The students are typically only in Indianapolis for up to four years for medical school. Most of them leave to do their residency work outside of Indy. The responsibilities must be passed on to the next group of students. It’s important, Meek and Frank said, for the organization to have a strong mission statement and plan the next group of students can work from. They do their best to pass on what worked and what didn’t work, but there is a lot of wiggle room for new ideas and approaches to be woven into the Rock for Riley mantra.

Joe Frank, Rock for Riley co-founder, promises “the show is always amazing and the fact that it is for Riley makes it that much more amazing. And the band is into it as well — they’re glad to be a part of something different.”

-Colleen Iudice

In 2005:

• 221,072 total outpatient visits

• 13,888 inpatient and outpatient surgeries

• 2,000 full-time staff

• 375 medical staff

Riley Children’s Hospital opened in 1924 and is

• Indiana’s first pediatric emergency department

• Indiana’s only pediatric burn center

• One of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive outpatient care facilities for children

• One of the three largest autism treatment centers in the nation

WHAT: My Morning Jacket with The Slip

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 25, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Clowes Memorial Hall

TICKETS: $25 reserved, all proceeds benefit Riley Children’s Hospital

INFO: www.rockforriley.org, www.mymorningjacket.com