On a clear, mild evening in July 2017, a crowd of 700 gathered in a park in Morton, Ill., for a community talent show that drew two dozen acts to the large pavilion stage.
This diverse group of people ten miles from Peoria looked forward to more than just a night of entertainment — the Backyard Talent Show was celebrating its 10th year of raising funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Featuring acts by participants aged 3 to 18, and produced by kids and young adults, the Backyard Talent Show has grown from a modest event with eight participants in the backyard of a Morton family to the public show driven by the talent and commitment of more than 50 children and teens.
From the first show a decade ago that raised $350 with an audience of 35 family members and close friends, the Backyard Talent Show has rallied civic pride and now raised nearly $150,000. These funds help ensure families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
Those participating all agree to raise a minimum of $35, and other funds come from donations and concessions.
“The Backyard Talent Show for St. Jude has always been about kids helping kids — never adults creating a show for kids,” said Claire Geier, a college freshman who was in elementary school when she created the event with her twin sister Kaitlyn, and cousins Madison and Isabelle Kolvek.
After a successful lemonade stand fundraiser for St. Jude in July 2008, the girls envisioned a talent show that could raise even more money for.
“We all love to perform — we grew up dancing and cheerleading as well — and knew plenty of other kids who liked to perform, too,” said Madison Kolvek, now a college junior.