Who We Are
Special Talents America is a unique organization that showcases the talents of people with disabilities and helps them achieve their personal goals – while inspiring and giving hope to others through their accomplishments.
Originally operating under the auspices of the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association (WDSRA), a not-for-profit agency, Special Talents America is currently applying for its own 501(c)(3) certification.
Led by professionals in therapeutic recreation, video and television production, Web design, graphic arts, writing, and the music industry, Special Talents America is supported by an army of volunteers and sponsors. Together we have produced three major talent shows for special needs performers – the first for WDSRA participants, the second for statewide participants in Illinois, and the third for contestants in a four-state area. Because the events have been so successful and have been received with such enthusiasm, we are currently planning our fourth competition. The 2014 Special Talents America competition will be open to performers across the nation.
How Special Talents America Began
Carl Sandburg once said, “Nothing happens unless first a dream,” and that applies to us. Our two executive producers, Jorie Meyer from Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, and Greg Bizzaro, owner of Jaffe Films, have long conducted a class called Video Ventures to teach video production techniques to special needs participants from WDSRA. This class provided the spark for the first talent competition, and the students help videotape the competition each time it is held.
Several years ago, as Greg was returning from China after doing video work for Special Olympics International, he had the proverbial “light bulb” moment. He wondered, “Why can’t we produce a talent show to do for performing artists what Special Olympics does for athletes?”
Greg discussed the idea with Jorie, and, in her typically tenacious fashion, she latched on to it. Together, they produced our first talent show in 2007 with performers drawn from WDSRA participants. The studio audience was small and the television broadcast was locally limited, but the evening was a huge success!
And the dream continued to grow…
We produced show number two in 2010. The talent pool was drawn from nine special recreation associations throughout the state of Illinois. The studio audience was five times larger and the cable broadcast aired in cities throughout the state. In addition, our host was Miss Illinois 2010, Whitney Thorpe-Klinsky, and our celebrity judges were Grammy Award winner Jim Peterik (“Eye of the Tiger,” Survivor, Ides of March), singer/songwriter Lisa McClowry, and Richard Gaines of the Academy of Performing Arts in Glendale Heights, IL. Jim and Lisa even performed some of their hit songs for an audience that was already entranced by so much special talent.
And the dream continued to grow…
Our 2012 show was produced before a live audience at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, Illinois, and included contestants from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. The show was hosted by recording artist Lisa McClowry. Celebrity judges included Grammy Award winner Jim Peterik; former lead singer of Toto, Fergie Frederiksen; music, feature film and television producer David Chackler, and professional dancer Richard Gaines. Thirteen special needs performers thrilled a full house with their incredible talents, and the celebrity musicians made the evening even more memorable with high-energy performances of their hit songs. In the end, Breanna Alyssa Bogucki, a 15-year-old high school student with autism, took the top honor, captivating the audience and judges with her rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Mean.”
Breanna’s special prize was announced by Jim Peterik – a recording session at his World Stage Studio in Burr Ridge! Within weeks, Jim Peterik and Lisa McClowry had written a song especially for Breanna entitled “I Was Born Yesterday.” The long will soon be released. Please click on Breanna’s tab on this Web site to learn more about Breanna and her very special song.
You guessed it…the dream continues to grow…
Committee Team Members
Greg Bizzaro - Executive Producer
Jorie Meyer - Executive Producer
Jim Gartland - Producer/Writer
Jini Clare - Public Relations/Marketing
Judy Bergh - Grant Writer/Sponsorship
Lisa McClowry - Host/Performer/Production Coodinator
Jon Bizzaro - Webmaster/Graphic Design
Steve Claussen - Director
Bethany Duckworth - Video Production/Editor
Sue Gartland - Social Media