Talent show and family night: an evening of fun, tears, memories

The Special Needs Talent Show and Family Night is a social night filled with prizes, student performances, and special memories.


The West Wing Performers and Best Buddies sing “Best Day of My Life” for the opening act of the talent show.

Although the name may contain the words ‘special needs,’ West High’s Special Needs Talent Show and Family Night is all about coming together for a fun, emotional night.

The event is the culmination of a school year’s worth of effort. The special needs students and teachers spend the year collecting donations from local places, preparing acts to perform and getting everything laid out. They spend the whole day setting up the tables and the donated objects to be ready on display.

But when the event starts, all the hard work melts into celebration.

“Everyone gets really into it and sings with everyone. Last year, all the chairs were filled up and there was a conga line around the whole room,” said Kailin Lust, the president of Best Buddies.

This year was just like the last. Hundreds of people shuffled along the walls of the room, checking out the items on the silent auction and buying raffle tickets near the entrance. The empty seats filled as one of the special needs students took the stage with a guitar. During and after each performance that followed, the audience clapped along, cheered, or even cried. The night had the air of a lively party.

“We try not to make it a fact that it’s special needs. It’s just a fun night, it’s a family night,” said Sherry Miller, one of the fundraising directors for the event. “I don’t go around saying, ‘Oh you’re going to come watch the special needs kids tonight?’ It’s just the talent show.”

Even so, the talent show is not just the talent show but rather an event to remember. For the performances this year, the special needs students sang pop songs, played the guitar, and even blew a tune on the ocarina. After singing and rapping If I Ruled the World for his senior talent show, Willey Gale ’16 was ecstatic to have ended his fourth and final performance with a positive crowd. He felt happy to have worked so hard and to participate in the event every year. “I can graduate, majoring too.”

In addition to the musical performances, the crowd gathered around the students’ artwork and even a lego construction, stopping at the displays to take pictures or to simply take a look. Angel Alvarado ’18, whose artwork was displayed at the talent show, enjoyed the uplifting attitude shared by the people who came to see his art.

Alvarado's depiction of The Punisher from Marvel. This is Alvarado's favorite piece of artwork on display at the event.
Alvarado’s depiction of The Punisher from Marvel. This is Alvarado’s favorite piece of artwork on display at the event.

“[I came] to see some people, to see some friends. It’s just really positive, I would say,” Alvarado said.

Miller and Kim Cranston, one of the special education teachers at West High, recalled from years ago a performance of American Woman where the audience cheered, stood, and sang with the performer. As Cranston sums up, “I’ll never forget it.”

The night does even more than showcasing diverse talents and creating memories; all of the money raised from the silent auction and the raffle goes into paying for the special needs students to go to Camp Courageous. The camp is a YMCA or Wapsie-like camp that is tailored for all ability levels that Lust says is “super fun.” The talent show helps tackle the two hundred dollar fee that gets in the way of the fun.

Fortunately, the event gathers more and more people and money every year. After outgrowing its original location at the Old Brick Church and moving to West High, the number of donations has grown as well, from thirty to over four hundred donations coming in this year.

We try not to make it a fact that it’s special needs. It’s just a fun night, it’s a family night

— Sherry Miller

“Spending five, six hundred dollars is nothing because it’s going to the kids who are going to Camp Courageous. I can spend five hundred, a thousand dollars for a soccer weekend to watch a kid play a game that doesn’t have the problems that these kids have … That’s one weekend of a soccer game going to these kids. So I don’t think parents who purchase this stuff care so much about winning the bid. It’s about the money going to the kids,” said Lori Lust, Kailin Lust’s mother.

For the coming years, the organizers of the talent show hope to raise more money and send more students to Camp Courageous. Going even further, the event hopes to continue spreading the love, the joy, and the family fun that the event is all about. As Lust explains, “You will not see one person leave here not in a better mood and not smiling and happy. As long as that continues and everyone who is a part of [the talent show] leaves happy, I think we’ve all succeeded.”