The event that inspired Night to Shine, Tim Tebow’s “Prom” for people with special needs, took place thousands of miles away in a remote village in the Philippines.
Tim, then just 15 years old, watched as villagers shunned a young boy born with severe deformities to his lower legs. Tim never forgot it. And in 2015, the Tim Tebow Foundation announced the first Night to Shine event.
Night to Shine is a fun and exciting celebration for everyone who participates—those with special needs and those with special hearts who volunteer to make it happen.
“What we want to do is fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves,” he said then. “It’s about people with special needs, it’s about giving them a voice, it is about celebrating them, it is about loving them and letting them know that their lives matter and that they are special, and giving them the time of their life.”
It’s a belief deeply embraced by Prestonwood Baptist Church, which hosts its second Night to Shine from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Friday, February 10. A red carpet complete with paparazzi awaits the attendees, who can have makeup applied or shoes shined when they walk in the doors. Ages 14 and up, the prom attendees then gather in The Commons for dinner, where they are all “crowned” king and queen. Then they head to the Student Ministry Building to dance and have fun with karaoke and photo booths.
Last year’s gathering was an absolute success, said Helen Morris, Director of Special Needs Ministry. The Special Needs Ministry, which falls under the umbrella of the Children’s Ministry, ministers to those with special needs ranging in age from 15 months to 69 years.
“Immediately, the church said we’re doing this again next year, so we didn’t need to wait for everyone to analyze it. They said, ‘Let’s do it again!’”
The event would not be possible without the more than 500 volunteers from the Prestonwood family, including 275 volunteers from Chi Sigma, a student and parent volunteer organization at Prestonwood Christian Academy. The students helped with everything from crafting flowers to assembling crowns and frames to decorating to shining shoes to acting as paparazzi on the red carpet to to acting as a “buddy” to attendees.
Bailey Wollent attends the first Night to Shine at Prestonwood.
Helen said the families of those attending really enjoyed it, because so many people who call her regarding the ministry have adult children with special needs.
Bailey Wollent attended the first Night to Shine prom at Prestonwood and could barely control her excitement.
“It’s really special to be here,” she said that evening. “I love walking down the aisle in a beautiful dress. We are all different, but we are all special.”
Bailey, who is on the Board of Directors for the National Down Syndrome Guild, said God made her who she is.
“I was born prematurely and wasn’t supposed to make it but I did,” she said. “I thank God because this church is all about Him. And I thank Jack Graham—he’s the preacher and he’s the best.”
Pastor Graham often speaks of the Special Needs Ministry being near and dear to his heart.
“We not only want to make sure that these children and adults are not forgotten, but also we want them to know how much they are loved,” he said. “This is truly a ‘Jesus Ministry.’”
Bailey is looking forward to attending again on Friday.
“I’m going to dance my heart out,” Bailey said.
Bailey’s mom, Kellie Best, said that for parents of special needs adult children, the great part about the event is the socialization.
Guests enter Night to Shine on the red carpet, complete with “paparazzi” who make each guest feel like a superstar.
“Bailey is a girlie-girl, so this is right down her alley,” she said. “Being able to dress up and go to a function at her own church, that’s wonderful.”
For many with special needs, opportunities to be with others in a social setting can be rare.
“Bailey is very high-functioning, she works, she has a job,” Kellie said. “She does a ton of advocate work…. But I think that the more mainstreaming happens, when you bring communities together, that’s a win-win for everyone.”
Nationally and internationally, Night to Shine has been an incredible success.
The first Night to Shine, on Valentine’s Day weekend 2015 served more than 7,000 people with special needs at events in 26 states and two other countries.
In 2016, Night to Shine drew 32,000 guests at 201 locations, including Prestonwood.
And on this year’s Valentine’s Day weekend, the Tim Tebow Foundation expects to host proms in 350 locations across all 50 states and 11 other countries.
“It’s more than a prom,” Tim recently told People magazine. “These are people who need to know that they matter. They matter to other people. They matter to God.”