Radio show in Wheaton aids STARS homes

Popular Little Patch of Heaven show supports group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities

Most parents can expect to watch their children grow up, become independent, move into homes of their own, and maybe even become a source of support and help to them in their old age.

But for parents of adult children with intellectual disabilities, the active parenting timeline often extends much longer. They may be caring for adult children at home into their 60s, 70s and even beyond, unsure what will happen when they are no longer there or are unable to continue the care they have long provided.

Those involved with the STARS ministry for intellectually disabled individuals at College Church in Wheaton saw that need. Adult participants in the STARS ministry were growing older, and so were their parents. Other relatives might or might not be willing or able to care for them. State facilities for the developmentally disabled in Illinois are scarce and might require a move away from the community the STARS participants know.

With that need in mind, STARS Family Services was started in 2008 as a separate not-for-profit with a mission to raise money and provide group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities. Washington House opened in 2011 with four male residents. The Jean Hooten Home followed in 2015 for five women residents, and a second home for men, Kenny's House, opened in February with five residents.

Staffed at all times, the houses become a true family home to the residents who have thrived in them. Each resident is required to do his or her share of household chores, and to spend four hours a day in the community at a part-time job, doing volunteer work or participating in recreational activities.

The homes maintain a Christian atmosphere and residents share in Bible study and prayer. Family members or friends of residents put in a couple hours a week of volunteer work.

Financial planning for homes has been careful. No home is opened until there is a year and a half of operating expenses in reserve. STARS Family Services accepts no government funding and families pay based only what the resident receives in disability income. The rest of funding comes from donations, proceeds from the STARS resale shop and fundraising.

The Little Patch of Heaven Radio Show has become a major fundraiser for STARS. The musical revue was started seven years ago by three women in College Church who sang as a trio and offered their talents to STARS.

Known as the Musical Moms, Joleen Billingham, Marcia Macy and Robin Wiper all brought professional or semiprofessional backgrounds in music. Wiper had sung in opera houses in the U.S. and Europe; Macy had studied voice in college and sung semiprofessionally; and Billingham was a singer/songwriter.

Together with Todd Busteed as emcee, they staged the Little Patch of Heaven old-time radio show. The show was a hit and has more than tripled in size since then. Ray Chase, president and CEO of STARS Family Services, talks about the Little Patch of Heaven and how it has contributed to the success of STARS Family Services.

Q. How did the Little Patch of Heaven fundraiser for STARS Family Services get started? Why did you choose the format of an old-time radio show?

A. The original show by the (Musical) Moms was nine years ago for about 40 parents of disabled STARS (participants) at a monthly parents' support group at College Church. It was near Valentine's Day and it was just the Moms singing for the parents' group; it was not a fundraiser. They had such a great response from the parents they decided to do it a second year and included Todd Busteed as an emcee and provide some humor.

As the Moms and Todd became aware of the new not-for-profit organization STARS Family Services, they approached Dawn Clark, then the director of the Disability Ministry at College Church in Wheaton, to see if they might expand the program to the community and raise funds for the operation of homes for our adult STARS.

The first two years the show was the weekend before or after Valentine's Day and had a valentine's theme. There was only one show.

The old-time radio show about life in Wheaton and the area was Todd's idea. It's been a way to keep good, clean humor in the show. It's about Wheaton, its businesses and the folks who live there. It's fun.

Q. How many people were involved in putting on the first Little Patch of Heaven fundraiser seven years ago and how has it grown since then?

A. There were about 18 people involved the first year with 400 people in attendance when about $35,000 was raised. The second year, 700 people attended and over $50,000 was raised. Last year, with two shows, Friday evening and Saturday matinee, over 1,400 people attended and $115,000 was raised.

Q. How many people will be involved in this year's production - on stage and behind the scenes?

A. On stage, 16 people (are) performing. Direct show support (sound, video, lighting, ushers, stage setup): 21 (the wrestling team from Wheaton College provides manpower to load and unload the set). Preshow planning and coordination: seven. Reception hosts: five.

Q. What can audience members look forward to in this year's show? Have new elements been added?

A. Surprise - we can't say specifics about the theme, but there will be new songs, new skits, video and humor. The songs will range from bluegrass, gospel to opera. We will poke fun at ourselves and have fun with some classic Wheaton traditions. We will be introducing the five new residents of Kenny's Home in a fun way. We will focus on one of the women in the Jean Hooten Home and how living in the home this past year has changed her life.

Q. Tell me about the process of putting the show together, the amount of time it takes and how you go about coming up with material.

A. Three groups are involved. The Moms, Todd's resources and a logistics committee. The Moms start within weeks of the past show discussing ideas. By June they are meeting nearly every Wednesday (taking time for summer family vacations). One summer, the Moms filmed video downtown at a Friday Classic Car Night - the song "Downtown" was created and presented in video format at the show.

Near the end of September, the Moms are meeting every Wednesday, rehearsing different songs and arrangements they have created. Generally, sometime in October, Todd and a representative of the logistics committee meet to pull the parts together. The Moms continue to create components of the show; Todd starts working on ideas for skits after he understands the Moms' overall theme. They always develop way too much content!

Six weeks before the show, after Todd understands the "technical" needs of the show, he coordinates the sound and lighting needs and works with Tim Hollinger, technical manager at College Church, to "choreograph" the technical aspects of the show. Todd is the owner of GAP Digital sound studio in Wheaton and a technical genius.

About three weeks before the show, the Moms and Todd start the delicate process of trimming the content to get the show to under two hours.

The week of the show the entire College Church Sanctuary is turned over to the logistics committee, who begin Sunday evening by removing the choir pews so that on Monday the sanctuary platform is transformed into a set with a house, barn, outhouse and trees.

Q. The show has grown steadily in popularity. To what do you attribute its success?

A. Mostly word-of-mouth, but we do have many volunteers who place posters and pass out fliers throughout DuPage County. The audience always spikes when there is a Daily Herald article the week of the show. We honestly can't understand why we don't have every seat filled. It is such a quality show. How large an audience do we anticipate this year? We are hoping for 1,800.

Q. What do you enjoy most about putting on the show?

A. First, because we care about our STARS and the homes they live in. These adults deserve to live where they want and with whom they want. Second, it is fun and allows us to be creative with the music, acting and performing with others from College Church.

Q. How much money has Little Patch of Heaven raised for STARS Family Services?

A. Over $450,000. The fundraising goal for this year is $175,000, and will be designated for operating three homes. Two homes opened in the past year alone.

Q. What are the other funding sources for STARS Family Services?

A. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the STARS Resale Shop provides regular monthly support and this past fall provided a check for $60,000. A fall Bowling Event supports our job coaching program, and a year-end appeal beginning with Giving Tuesday (the first Tuesday in December) has proved successful with generous community support.

Q. STARS Family Services now has three group homes. Are there plans to open more? Do you have a waiting list of people desiring these residential services?

A. Absolutely; as resources and needs allow. A second men's home, Kenny's House, was opened for five guys on Feb. 1. We have over 135 families with special needs children who participate in weekly programs at College Church. There were 21 men considered for the new men's home. Five were selected.

Q. Has putting on the Little Patch of Heaven fundraiser brought people in College Church closer together? In what ways?

A. Yes, and those outside College Church also. The STARS community includes many families that attend other churches or who have no church affiliation. Many of the volunteers involved with Little Patch give back to support the STARS effort. STARS has a special place in the hearts of College Church members who support the ministry and display kindness to the STARS and their families. The Moms, Todd and most of the onstage performers are College Church members and enjoy practicing and performing together.

The Musical Moms - Robin Wiper, from left, Joleen Billingham and Marcia Macy - are staging Little Patch of Heaven for the seventh year as a fundraiser for STARS Family Services to operate group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities. Courtesy of STARS Family Services
Sarah Curiale, a participant in the STARS ministry at College Church, works as a server at the reception after the Little Patch of Heaven old-time radio show. Courtesy of STARS Family Services
Performing a skit in Little Patch of Heaven are Pam Turlow, from left, Kailey Bell, Mark Macy and emcee Todd Busteed. Courtesy of STARS Family Services

If you go

What: Little Patch of Heaven Radio Show

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 11; 3 p.m. Saturday, March 12

Where: College Church sanctuary, 332 E. Seminary St., Wheaton

Cost: Freewill offering

Info: (630) 206-0243 or

Note: Little Patch of Heaven will be live-streamed on the STARS website, <a href=""></a>, and on <a href=""></a>, search "Little Patch of Heaven"

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