Staff Photo: Tyler EstepRadio host Bert Weiss, far left, and Lawrenceville resident Will Stark, far right, talk on air as three of Stark's biological children look on Monday in Atlanta. Stark, who adopted six special-needs children along with his late wife, was given a new van and almost $200,000 in donations.
ATLANTA — Will Stark, the adoptive father to six special-needs children and recently adopted cause of Q100’s “The Bert Show,” made an appearance in studio Monday morning.
The unassuming Lawrenceville resident — at once perfectly calm behind the microphone and perfectly uncomfortable with the situation — retold his story, one that host Bert Weiss’ audiences in Atlanta, Nashville and Indianapolis were familiar with after Weiss spent the better part of last week asking for donations.
Cutting to a commercial break about 7:30 a.m., Weiss told listeners to stay tuned to find out what exactly the Stark family would be receiving.
“If it’s more than two sentences,” Stark said on the air, “it’s too much.”
“We’re gonna be here for a while,” he said.
The story began in earnest almost 20 years ago, when Will and wife Cheryl began adopting special-needs children. Four of those children (Melody, 19, Natalie, 18, Johnathon, 17, Amber, 17) now attend Peachtree Ridge High School, where they completed their first day of the new school year after dropping by “The Bert Show” Monday. Katie and Jacob, both 12, go to school at Jackson Elementary and Hull Middle, respectively.
Their illnesses include nonverbal mental retardation, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
The family got on Weiss’ radar when they were chosen in 2009 for Bert’s Big Adventure, an annual trip taking ill or disabled children and their families to Disney World. They reemerged three weeks ago Monday, when Cheryl Stark had a stroke.
She passed away July 21.
“It’s not the work that’s hard, because these kids are our joy,” said Heather Stark, one of Will’s three adult biological daughters. “They’re our purpose for getting up, their smiles, their joy. But it’s difficult not to have her here.”
To make things more complicated, Will Stark lost his job about 18 months ago. Enter Weiss, and an outpouring from his audience he called “unlike I’ve seen in years.”
Monday morning, Stark opened the envelope containing a tally of donations himself — “that’s too many numbers Bert.” A total of 3,300 listener donations reached $189,518.79. Another $15,000 was donated by Aaron’s and Premier Transporting. Aaron’s also threw in a much-needed washer and dryer.
Team Ford of Marietta donated a handicapped-accessible van, to be used to get the kids back and forth from therapy — a huge upgrade from the Stark’s antiquated van that lost air conditioning long ago.
“There are so many hurting people out there today. We just see ourselves as a family,” an emotional Stark said. “This is so wonderful, but there are a lot of hurting people.”
Heather Stark said the family will use the money to pay bills and put “a large sum” in savings.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words. And we’ve seen it, like I said on air, from friends, family, neighbors and complete strangers. So many people have reached out to help and to hug and to pray.”
Weiss stressed the need for continued support, calling the Starks a family that “will need some help for a long time.” Those interested can donate online at www.thebertshow.com.
Will Stark, meanwhile, will continue raising his kids alongside his biological daughters, who have moved in since their mother passed. The man who never thought to ask for help got a whole lot of it Monday.
“I’ve seen the love of people,” he said.