Little Kids Rock - Transforming children's lives

by Little Kids Rock, Inc.

“Who’s your favorite rock star?” a trainer asks a room full of music teachers as an icebreaker to begin Little Kids Rock’s Modern Band workshop.

“John Lennon.”

“Jimi Hendrix.”

“Whitney Houston.”

As teachers shared their favorite songwriters, musicians and singers, Jen Theilacker stood up and proudly declared, “My favorite rock star is my student, Lamiya.”

Lamiya was in sixth grade and one of the first Modern Band students at Philippa Schuyler Middle School after Theilacker attended Little Kids Rock’s teacher training and received all of the musical instruments and resources she needed to start a program at her school.

Lamiya, who is headed to high school next year, embraced this new learning environment wholeheartedly, as it allowed her to get in touch with her creative side and grow as a person, not just a musician. She draws, paints, writes poetry, writes songs, and has even begun using Little Kids Rock’s Jam Cards to learn to play the piano on her own.

“Can you believe Lamiya never touched a guitar before she came and changed our lives three years ago?” Theilacker says.

The remarkable thing is not just how much Theilacker impacted Lamiya’s middle school years, but how this teenager helped develop a young teacher into an incredible mentor, and an ambassador for a national organization that trains other teachers across the country.

“I feel like I have learned as much, if not more from Lamiya, than I have taught her over the past few years, says Theilacker, who used to be a “hardcore Marching Band director.”

“I feel it is my job to reach all students where they fit best in the band world, Concert Band or Modern band,” she says. “It is my job to let them explore for themselves and not just force them to do one or the other. I now realize I would never have reached or truly got to know Lamiya through concert band because that’s not her thing… her love is the guitar, singing, and songwriting.”

“I played violin for about four years, but I became involved with Little Kids Rock and then guitar became more important to me,” Lamiya says. “The bands I listen to write lyrics that simply amaze me, not only because of the beauty of the lyrics, but the fact that there are other people who know what it’s like to feel the same way I do. That’s the kind of impact I want to have on my audience.”

Her original song, Broken Record (about battling depression and insomnia) gives a glimpse into Lamiya’s heart, which she pours out for her audience (see her lyrics and explanation HERE). “A broken record basically repeats a certain part of a song over and over again. In a way, a person who has depression feels like their life is a broken record, because the sadness never leaves, and bad things keep happening.”

“Lamiya is the type of student that every teacher should be blessed to have in their class sometime in their life,” says Theilacker. “I remind all of my students that leaders do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, without being told, and whether or not they want to do it. Lamiya has been a committed leader and that is why she has been my chosen manager for the last three years.”

As “Rock Band Manager,” Lamiya helped Ms. Theilacker with whatever she needed for rehearsals or gigs. For example, she made lists of all equipment needs, tuned guitars, repaired broken strings, packed the gig bags, and always helped her remember last minute details, like what the band should wear for the concert!

“Others have the choice to lead, follow, or get out of the way,” says Theilacker. “Most of her peers choose to follow, which is much easier.”

Lamiya is mature beyond her years, but being so mature at her age isn’t always fun or easy. Other students do not necessarily understand or get it, but they respect her for it. It wasn’t easy at first for Lamiya to understand why her peers didn’t understand or have her same passion or work ethic at rehearsals. However, Lamiya always puts the group first and not herself. She doesn’t need to be the lead vocals on every song. In fact, she usually chooses not to be, because for her, it is about the music, not herself.

“I think that music will forever be part of my life,” she says. “It won’t be my main focus, because my biggest goal in life is to be a doctor. However, I’d love to continue helping people with my songs in the future.”


 Transformed by a Musical Experience

The House of Blues Hollywood was packed with Pantera fans who had gathered to pay tribute to their recently gunned down guitar God, Darrell Abbott. High school student Areli Morales stood backstage preparing to sing before the largest crowd she had ever seen. MTV had cameras rolling and the audience was loud, as she tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

“As I stood there in front of the sea of metal music lovers, I feared that I might somehow forget my lines and dishonor Darrell and my band,” Areli said, remembering her experience on that transformative night. “But I took a deep breath, focused on the moment and a rush of energy filled me. I made the best of that moment.”

Areli discovered her love for performing and found her self-confidence in her high school Modern Band class. The class was led by Scott Burstein, a teacher who took Little Kids Rock’s free training and received a donation of instruments and curricular resources that would give Areli the tools she needed to share her soulful music with the world.

“I don’t believe I will encounter a moment more nerve-racking than taking the stage at the House of Blues,” she said. “[Little Kids Rock] improved my self-confidence and helped me overcome stage fright.”

With the support of her teachers and classmates, Areli brought the “House [of Blues]” down! The whole concert was featured on MTV, which was an extra bonus for the budding rock star and her music classmates.

“She had great stage presence and confidence,” Burstein said of her performance.

Areli is now a recent college graduate with a degree in Recreation and Tourism Management and a minor in French, and enjoys playing shows for huge audiences. She takes any opportunity to sing and perform.

“I love the energy of commanding a stage fueled by the power of music,” said Areli, who also pens her own songs. “I am moved to write while traveling because it gives me a second to reflect and disconnect. I find that every experience can be transformed into music.”

However, it was a musical experience at the House of Blues that transformed Areli.

"Music is a gift. You give it away and you get to keep it forever."

This sentiment fueled some Little Kids Rock employees and donors to stop by Beechwood Elementary to give a few brand new guitars to a classroom of kids who have been staying after school to learn to play and write their own music!

The kids had no idea that they were coming and the looks on their faces when the instruments were unveiled were priceless!

This is just another example of the many lives that Little Kids Rock transforms and enriches every day by giving children the opportunity to find their inner music-makers.

Check it out!


Little Kids Rock!
Little Kids Rock!

Dear Friends and Generous Donors,

What are you thankful for?

I am thankful for the hundreds of thousands of children who have had "ah-ha!" moments in their Little Kids Rock classes. For example, just the other day, when I visited one of our elementary schools, a student said to me, "Did you know that the Beatles used the same chords in 'Let It Be' as The Lumineers did in 'Ho Hey'?"

More than 118,000 kids in over 1,000 public schools from coast to coast are experiencing "ah-ha!" moments like this thanks to the support of people like you. These kids are grateful to have the gift of music in their lives.

Here is what they have to say!

Thank you for supporting our kids. Each gift makes an impact on a child's life, and I ask that you create more "ah-ha!" moments for our kids by giving today.


Dave Wish

Dave Wish
Executive Director and Founder
Little Kids Rock


Ignacio Arrendondo
Ignacio Arrendondo

Many parents want one thing for their children: to provide them with more opportunities than they had when they were kids. Ignacio Arrendondo decided to honor the sacrifices his father made for him by making his father’s dream of becoming a musician into his own dream. Little Kids Rock helped make that happen…

At the age of three, Ignacio immigrated to the United States from his native Chile, and found his new life in America to be a challenge. He struggled to adapt to a new culture, while also  trying to absorb some of the basic pillars of his family’s culture. Music helped him overcome the difficulty of learning English, and connected him to his Chilean roots where his grandfather was a musician years ago. When Ignacio began experimenting with music in 2009 at the age of 13, his father encouraged him by sharing his own dream of starting a band – one that he never got to realize.

Ignacio recognized that by deciding to come to the United States to make a better life for his family, his father had sacrificed his own dreams in order to provide Ignacio with opportunities he never had. He joined the Little Kids Rock program during his 8th grade year at Franklin L. Williams Middle School in Jersey City in order to hone his skills.

“My father told me that when he was a kid, he always wanted to make a band, and that he didn’t have the opportunities I have,” says Ignacio, who was inspired to make the most of his father’s sacrifice by starting a band of his own. “When [my father] told me that, I felt like I could make his dream come true, but in my life.”

Ignacio’s musical journey did not stop when he went to high school. While writing music and forming a band with other students he met in his Little Kids Rock class, Ignacio also made time to go back to his middle school to help teach younger, budding musicians how to play, write, and most of all, feel confident.

Ignacio put his heart into a song he wrote, “Here We Are,” which he performed with his band, The White Skies, in front of a sold out Jake Clemons show at the legendary Wonderbar in Asbury Park, NJ. Little Kids Rock helped Igancio make his song into his first music video.

Now a 17-year-old high school student, Ignacio is ecstatic to have the opportunity to make his dream, and his father’s dream, a reality. “This song took me further than I ever thought,” he said.

Little Kids Rock is proud to help kids like Ignacio realize their dreams every day.


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Organization Information

Little Kids Rock, Inc.

Location: Verona, New Jersey - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Sandi Zellner
Verona, New Jersey United States