It all started last year at Sammy Eplan's bar mitzvah.
Eplan formed a rock band that included a couple of his eighth-grade friends from Merrick, N.Y., to perform at his party. When it came time to choose a name, Eplan, who plays drums, noticed that they all got "easily distracted" as a comment on their report cards. "We're good students, but we like to entertain — in and out of the classroom," says Austin Koenigstein, 14, who plays guitar and sings for the group.
Distracted was born. After bar mitzvah day, they wanted to keep it going. Now Eplan and Koenigstein, joined by fellow high school freshmen Dan Bertan, 15, and Asa Lieberman, 14, perform with several other youth "garage bands" to raise money for charities.
Last week, they appeared with Eplan's 10-year-old brother Jesse's band, Word of the Day, for which he also plays the drums, at Mulcahy's in Wantagh, N.Y., to raise money for the Long Island 2-Day Walk to Fight Breast Cancer.
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In the past, the bands have raised money for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and Forever 9, a Merrick-based charity that raises money to help provide defibrillators to children's sports teams. On June 5, Word of the Day will perform at the 2-Day Walk.
Two other tween and teen bands will join in that day's performance: Spare Change is made up primarily of students ages 10 to 13 in the Half Hollow Hills school district, and Skeptics & True Believers is a band whose members attend Roslyn High School in Roslyn Heights, N.Y.
The kids all solicit donations for a basket raffle that the parents put together. Even the siblings get involved — Koenigstein's older brother, Jordan, 19 and a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has worked writing letters from his dorm room to get corporate donations and coordinate an event journal.
"I think it's phenomenal," says Lori Lefkowitz, mom of Matt Lefkowitz, 15, who plays in Word of the Day. "Children, especially those who have life pretty good, need to know to give back."
The concert was the kids' idea, says Kristie Moore, marketing director for the 2-Day Walk. "You hear in the news all the time the bad things kids are up to. It's great to see kids this age heading toward philanthropy," she says.
The bands play classic rock and pop, with such selections as Living After Midnight, by Judas Priest or Teenage Wasteland by The Who. "The hardest part is we need everybody to keep the beat and play the right chords," says Jesse, wearing a black "I Rock" T-shirt depicting a stick figure playing electric guitar.
Says Lieberman: "We're doing what we love, and we're doing it for a good cause. That makes it that much better."
"And it looks good for college," Eplan says.