The winter gala begins with young people in tuxedos and beautiful gowns traversing the red carpet and posing for the paparazzi. But this isn’t a Hollywood movie premiere or a celebrity-studded awards show. The stars of this night are children with special needs.
St. Louis Night of Superstars spotlights 20 outstanding children and teens with serious illnesses and disabilities. The kids push through their adversities each day to participate in academics, athletics, the arts, and community service. Rhonda and Jerry Overberg created the event to encourage young people to keep striving no matter how daunting their physical and mental challenges may seem. “This event gives the children a day to be special not for being ill or injured, but for being an inspiration to those around them,” says Rhonda Overberg. “We give them a day to be a child with no worries, only excitement.”
Rhonda says the children—who face cognitive, physical, and even psychological disabilities—amaze her because of what they are able to achieve in spite of their disabilities. “Happy was a child our first year and he was in a wheelchair,” she says. “He had to communicate by blinking his eyes, and he was a 4.0 student.”
To prepare for the special evening, “superstar” children are dressed to the nines, pampered by makeup artists and hair stylists, and picked up in limousines. “[This experience] is something I never could have given my daughter,” says Sarah Gall, whose daughter, Malia, 12, has ingrown tumors and osteogenesis imperfecta, also called brittle bone disease. Malia was 7 when she was honored at the St. Louis Night of Superstars in 2012 and actually swapped cell phone numbers with a professional football player. “To this day, she talks about that night.”
An unforgettable highlight of the evening: family, friends and paparazzi snapping photos and seeking autographs along the red carpet. Escorts—including local police, representatives of the four branches of the military, music recording artists, and NFL cheerleaders—line the entrance. It’s all made possible by the Overbergs.
“They gave our whole family an experience that we otherwise would not get because of our financial obligations to the medical condition. There is no way, with all the medical expenses, that we could afford to do the hotel and limo and a concert and dinner and a night on the town,” says Gall. “For one night, we got to watch our daughter be who we know she is.”
The event got its start when the Overbergs’ friend and fellow real estate professional Amy Connell, then 35, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. The Overbergs felt compelled to help, recalls Rhonda Overberg, who with Jerry is owner of RE/MAX Best Choice in St. Louis. Joining forces with Nashville recording artist Jason Ashley, the couple put on a benefit concert and raised about $6,000 for their friend’s care.
“Amy passed 10 months after her diagnosis,” says Rhonda. It was not easy news to carry. To honor her memory, the Overbergs decided to ramp up their charitable efforts and earmarked a number of children’s charities for donations. In 2011, they launched what has become their signature event, St. Louis Night of Superstars, modeling it after an event originally founded in Dallas in 2005. Last February’s St. Louis gala drew more than 600 attendees and raised $25,000.
“The first year we were wondering how it would turn out,” says Jerry. “When we saw all the kids together, I was like, ‘Holy cow!’ They were some of the happiest kids I had ever seen. Every year I’m amazed by the kids—both their abilities and their disabilities.”
In 2015, the Overbergs founded a nonprofit foundation, Amy’s Wish, so they could take tax-deductible donations and distribute much of the money locally. These funds are made available for the Superstars’ families for college scholarships and for emergency needs—for example, a prescription that insurance won’t cover. A portion of the funds goes to support the national nonprofit Children’s Miracle Network, which funds treatment and research at 170 children’s hospitals across the United States.
Indeed, the Overbergs’ wish is to create lasting memories and help stars with special needs shine bright. “They do everything: find people, guests, kids, and set an example in every way,” says Derrick Good, chair of the Amy’s Wish board. “The Overbergs are a driving force for the community—admired as people with a tremendous reputation—their idea, their effort has gotten others to buy into the concept.”
The community has gotten behind the event with tremendous support, says Good, even when Mother Nature has other ideas. “Two years ago there was a huge snowstorm. The nominated kids were staying in a hotel nearby,” recalls Good. “The Missouri Department of Transportation provided snowplows and the police provided escorts so kids could get to the event. Because it’s such a neat event, everyone is willing to pitch in and make it a success. “
But it’s the St. Louis Night of Superstars and the sight of pure joy on the faces of the children and parents that motivate the Overbergs. “It really just gets into your soul when you get involved,” says Rhonda. “Parents tell us over and over, ‘Thank you. This is the best day of my child’s life.’ When we hear those words from parents or grandparents, it keeps us going.”
The Overbergs work year-round to raise funds and generate excitement for the event. So how do they commit so much time to volunteering and running a business? ”Balancing our real estate work with our volunteering, it all goes hand-in-hand,” says Rhonda. “We are doing what REALTORS® should be doing anyway: building a network and friendships.”
All that hard work is making a difference in the lives of the people like Malia and Sarah Gall. Says Sarah: “They gave us a life that I can say, if something happened tomorrow, my daughter had a life that was well lived.”
Contact Rhonda Overberg at email@example.com and the St. Louis Night of Superstars at www.stlnos.com.