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Shining a path of happiness

Night To Shine provided special needs individuals the night of their lives

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Shining a path of happiness

Night To Shine attendees dance to the rhythm of a slow song.

Night To Shine attendees dance to the rhythm of a slow song.

Photo by Rachel Blake

Night To Shine attendees dance to the rhythm of a slow song.

Photo by Rachel Blake

Photo by Rachel Blake

Night To Shine attendees dance to the rhythm of a slow song.

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Night To Shine is a yearly prom put together for special needs members of the community and is hosted by hundreds of churches from around the globe for approximately 100,000 guests. This year’s annual event was held on on Friday, Feb. 8. Created by the Tim Tebow Foundation five years ago, the amount of attendees continues to grow as churches become involved.

Former professional American football quarterback Tim Tebow grew up in the Philippines with missionary parents. Following in his parents’ footsteps, he wanted to give back to his community as much as he could. At age 15, he visited a remote village that never had visitors before. There, he met a disabled boy who was believed to be cursed because he was born with backward feet. A fire was lit inside Tebow and his passion to help the disabled grew.

Since the creation of the foundation in 2010, Tebow has added other organizations, from Adoption Aid, which helps couples financially who adopt special needs children, to Timmy’s Playroom, which builds fun areas for kids in the hospital to distract and relax.

Our vision is to encourage, equip and support churches to…create and maintain a thriving, lifelong ministry to their community of people with special needs and their families.”

— co-coordinator Dawnea Smith

“Our vision is to encourage, equip and support churches to not only hold an unforgettable prom night experience but to create and maintain a thriving, lifelong ministry to their community of people with special needs and their families,” co-coordinator Dawnea Smith said.

Every year, the limit of volunteers needed is nonexistent. Help will always be needed in various areas. A medical team and even a paparazzi to welcome the special needs guests volunteer kept the event running smoothly.

“We need makeup and hair crew,” Smith said. “[As well as] a buddy team, so every special needs individual will have a buddy that is with them, along with the parents. If they’re needing help, there’s a buddy there. It’s kind of like a one-on-one.”

The buddy system policy made the memorable night run smoothly and stress-free for families attending. With that, it allowed them to spend time on the sidelines watching their children dance the night away.

“[Night To Shine] gave me an opportunity to stand back, take pictures [and] enjoy myself [while] watching all the participants dance,” parent of attendee Leon Mack said.

From start to finish, the night was planned to make the participants feel like royalty. Dressing up in dresses and tuxedos, the parents took them to the first half of the event. The special needs attendees were escorted through hair, makeup and even shoe shining. Then a group of volunteers cheered them on out the door to several limos stretched across a parking lot to drive them to the St. Ann Catholic Church, a local church, that hosted the Night To Shine dance.

Then the moment they are all crowned, they all just beam with the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen.”

— former coordinator Debbie Kaluza

“[The limo is] a highlight of all the kids’ night [because] everybody wants to ride in the limo,” Mack said.

Once the attendees arrived, they were greeted by another set of volunteers and paired with their buddy for the night. Snacks, dancing and a crowning ceremony carried on the night.

“The guys get a crown and the girls get a tiara,” former coordinator Debbie Kaluza said. “Then the moment they are all crowned, they all just beam with the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen.”

The dance was free of worries and price so participants were able to not be judged. Being surrounded by others in similar situations and dancing carefree, they let go of the daily obstacles.

“It gives them joy,” Klauza said. “It makes them feel like they are just like everybody else. It gives them time to actually be around people who are like them. And also it helps them with their self-esteem because they get to dress up, they get to look really good and dance.”

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