When guests with special needs dance the night away at Florence United Methodist Church on Feb. 10, they will be part of an international event.
Night to Shine is a prom program sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation to share God’s love for people with special needs. It’s designed to provide an unforgettable night of fun where guests are treated like kings and queens. And they get the crowns to prove it.
In all 50 states and in 11 countries, 375 churches are designating Feb. 10 as Night to Shine, according to the foundation’s website. Churches that want to host a prom apply to the foundation, which provides help and guidance, including manuals, prom kits and funds. The prom program started in 2015 with events at 44 churches. The number jumped to 201 last year.
That’s when Florence United Methodist Church got involved. Now it’s preparing to host its second prom, and if registration numbers are any indication, the night will shine brightly in Northern Kentucky.
Church member Kevin Meyer is organizing the event. We talked last week at the church, on Old Toll Road, during breaks at orientation and training for Night to Shine volunteers.
After crowning about 70 guests at its first prom last year, the church had planned this year for 85 guests, Meyer said. A recent spark in registrations, however, prompted organizers to regroup and refigure. They created more space for guests and accepted more registrations, bringing the total for the night to 105.
Still there’s a waiting list. While organizers want to welcome as many guests as possible, Meyer said, they must balance that with ensuring a comfortable space.
Last year’s event had a lasting impact on the church, Meyer said. Seeing how God worked, how the volunteers focused on the guests, how much genuine love was shared – these aspects made the prom “one of those life moments,” Meyer said, when you know “this is how you make a difference.”
The first stop on prom night will be check-in at Erpenbeck Elementary on Wetherington Boulevard in Florence. That’s where guests, who must be at least 14, will meet the volunteer buddies who will escort them for the night. Need hair and makeup done? That’s covered here. Guests can get their shoes shined too.
What about flowers? Guests can select boutonnieres and wrists corsages. And they can have their photos taken. Those photos, if all the technology runs smoothly, will be part of the gift bag they’ll receive at the end of the night.
Next a limousine will whisk them from the school to the church, less than a mile away. At the church, buddies will crown the guests, who will then walk the red carpet amid cheers from adoring fans and camera flashes from paparazzi.
Jeff Evans from Christian radio station STAR 93.3 has been tapped to announce each guest, and FOX 19 morning anchors Dan Wells and Kara Sewell are slated to greet each guest at the end of the red carpet, Meyer said.
Once inside, guests can enjoy heavy appetizers from Barleycorn’s, Gigi’s cupcakes, karaoke, music, dancing, a recorded message from celebrity athlete and foundation founder Tim Tebow and a balloon drop. A quiet room will be available for guests who may need a break from the activities.
For safety, all volunteers are required to have background checks and training about disabilities. Also, nurses, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement personnel will be at the church and school to help ensure everyone has a healthy and safe time, Meyer said.
Parents and caregivers who prefer to stay on site are welcome to visit a respite area offering food, games, movies, activities and a place to talk with one another.
While the Tim Tebow Foundation provides funding, Meyer said the church couldn’t host as big of an event without the help of area businesses, who are pitching in with donated and discounted goods and services. Add to that the 275 volunteers, and you’ve got a community coming together for the special night.
Fun with friends
Kelsey Coleman is looking forward to the big night and has happy memories from last year’s prom, she told me over the phone earlier this week.
“It was fun when we got to ride in the limo with the escorts, and we got to walk on the red carpet,” she said. Her absolute favorite thing? “I had fun dancing with all my friends.”
Brigitte Coleman made sure her daughter got signed up as soon as they heard registration was open for this year’s prom. “She did not want to miss it,” she said.
Brigitte said she appreciates the February prom being held in addition to the Royal Prom, which occurs at Crossroads church in September. A prom around Valentine’s Day creates an opportunity for couples and friends to celebrate together, she said.
Even though she did not use the respite area, Brigitte said it was a welcome offering. And she said she enjoyed seeing Kelsey get to ride in a limo.
Events like the prom help people with special needs expand their social circles, Brigitte said. They meet each others’ friends, she said, and create relationships with volunteers so that they are included more in society.
“I would love to see other things come from this at other churches,” Brigitte said.
A need to help
Catherine Willis sat in one of the blue-cushioned, metal-framed chairs at Florence United Methodist Church last week waiting under the high peaked ceiling for orientation to begin. A first-time Night to Shine volunteer, Willis is a paraeducator at Ockerman Middle School. She sat with her daughter Emily Edwards, a teacher at New Haven Elementary in the autism unit, who had told her about the volunteer opportunity.
“We needed to help,” Willis said. “[Everyone] should have an opportunity to enjoy every aspect of life, and they shouldn’t be limited by any perceived disability that they have.”
People with special needs, she said, should be surrounded by people who want to bring out the best in them.
Volunteers at last year’s prom also benefited from the experience. “I think we learned a lot from the guests about how to enjoy life,” Meyer said.
He noted how grateful the church is for support from the community, local businesses and the Tim Tebow Foundation. “The response from the community to this event,” Meyer said, “is just an example of the type of community we are all blessed to be a part of.”