Stan Hilkemeyer is the director of retail operations for the Beacon Group, which helps train folks with mental and physical disabilities to find work. The non-profit organization was created last year by the merger of two longtime charitable groups, the Beacon Foundation and Tetra Corporation. Beacon Group's new fun-filled fundraiser: The Official Tucson and Pima County Karaoke Championship on Nov. 5 and 6 at the Desert Diamond Casino's Diamond Center, located at I-19 and Pima Mine Road. The tourney will feature finalists from around town competing for prizes that include a Caribbean cruise and Las Vegas weekend. Tickets cost $10. For more info, call 622-4874, ext. 160.

What is the Official Tucson and Pima County Karaoke Championship all about?

This is our second annual event. Last year, we had the karaoke championship but it was a costume karaoke. It was tied into the Monster Bash, which was a first-year event for the Beacon Group. At just about that time, what is now the Beacon Group was two organizations, the Beacon Foundation and Tetra Corporation, coming together in a merger last October. We were looking for an annual event and we thought Halloween would be a practical event, and karaoke was a secondary event attached to Halloween.

Did the karaoke become more popular than the Halloween event?

The Halloween event was dismal. It was fun, but it was labor-intensive. The karaoke was very successful in that the karaoke singers provided all their own entertainment and they brought their own audience. So it was kind of a win-win from that standpoint.

How many folks are participating?

In our early qualifying rounds, which have been going on since Sept. 22, we estimate over 500 individuals will have competed for an opportunity to be in the semi-final rounds at Desert Diamond's Diamond Center on Nov. 5.

Why karaoke?

I think karaoke is just something that we saw being up and coming and we're trying to think outside the box with our fund raising--not just do another golf tournament or a dinner. We wanted to do something different and fun. Our goal is multi-purpose: We want to have a vehicle to use to approach the community and tell them about the Beacon Group, as well as have a fundraiser.

What's the grand prize?

The big prize is $2,500 in cash and a Caribbean cruise for two. The second prize is $500 in cash and a Las Vegas weekend for two. And the third prize is a night at our local Hacienda del Sol resort with dinner for two.

Tell us about the Beacon Group.

The Beacon Foundation and Tetra Corporation are two old, established Tucson non-profits. Tetra Corp was founded in 1952 and Beacon Foundation in 1955. Both operated with the primary focus on helping people with mental and physical disabilities, with the idea of training for employment. There are efficiencies in consolidation, so these two established organizations came together in October 2003 and our organization basically doubled in size. In the end, that one plus one is going to equal three, just because of efficiencies and pooling talent.

What are some of your programs?

At Jim Click Automotive, we've got a crew that goes out every day, and they've got a job coach, and their job is to make sure all of the cars on that lot shine. So it may be a task that some would say is simple, but it's a very needed and rewarding for the people who are doing it. It's instant gratification--when you're done washing a car, it's beautiful.

We have work crews at Tucson Electric Power and Southwest Gas. At Inn Suites, we have a cleaning crew that does rooms. We have a contract with the federal government for a crew that does all the janitorial on the new federal courthouse. We've got some janitorial contracts with the state. We've have a work crew with the city of Tucson that does some roadside clean-up.

How can the ordinary Joe help out?

One way is Value Village thrift store. This has been in our organization for 40 years. It's another one of the methods we use to generate money to fund our services. Jane typically calls on the phone asking for a donation of quality used furniture or household items. We have trucks that go out and pick up that stuff and we sell it in our thrift store and that generates funds.

So you can help by donating used items to the Value Village thrift store or by buying a $10 ticket for our karaoke championship and coming out to the Diamond Center and being one of the 2,000 people who get to watch these performers.

With the karaoke championship, we taken the top 10 percent of the 500 people who entered. So the talent is not your brother-in-law singing at the bar. It's as good as a Las Vegas show.

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