Four teenage girls in Morton, Illinois, firmly believe that America’s got talent. And they've proved it the last six years as their Backyard Talent Show for St. Jude has grown to attract more than 50 performers and hundreds of guests — raising more than $76,000 since it began.
Maddie and Isabelle Kolvek, ages 16 and 13, and twin sisters Claire and Kaitlyn Geier, 14, are cousins who started the talent show in the Kolveks’ backyard when they were in elementary school.
The girls were inspired by their attendance at the St. Jude Telethon in Peoria, which is the culmination of the Memphis to Peoria Run — a major fundraising event for 32 years. The girls’ grandmother, Peggy Fisher, has participated in the 465-mile run for 22 years.
“By going to the telethon, we met many families who went to St. Jude and learned a lot about St. Jude that way,” says Isabelle. “We decided to make a difference and help the St. Jude kids.”
The girls all took dance lessons as they were growing up and were constantly putting on shows in their basement. “We thought if we love to perform, there must be other kids out there who love to perform as much as we do,” Kaitlyn says.
In fact, they hope that kids in other communities around the country will take their idea and expand on it. “One of our goals is to have this widespread and have other kids with their own talent shows in different cities and states,” says Isabelle.
The Morton event started small with just seven acts. By the fourth year, the Backyard Talent Show had outgrown the backyard and moved to Morton’s Idlewood Park. No fee is charged for admission, and guests can purchase concessions, which are donated.
To participate in the show, children 18 or younger must submit a minimum entry fee of $35. But most performers take on the challenge of fundraising for St. Jude, says Beth Geier, Claire and Kaitlyn’s mother and self-described administrative assistant for the talent show.
Some do bake sales, others do lemonade stands. One young girl who is a talented pianist and singer played for tips at a local pizza restaurant to raise money for the show and brought in about $600 this year. Coincidentally, that child also had a tumor as an infant and was brought to St. Jude, where the tumor was removed and found to be benign.
The Kolvek and Geier girls don’t compete in the talent show. But they do an opening skit that kicks off the show and also serve as emcees. They spend most of the summer planning the show, which took place July 6 this year and raised more than $19,000. The girls present their check every year during the St. Jude Telethon in Peoria.
“Part of the mission is to inspire other kids to take action and do their own fundraising,” says Beth.