Night to Shine: Event celebrates people with special needs

It was their time to celebrate and their night to shine.

On Friday night, 100 community members with special needs participated in a Shine-Thru Parade at Seymour Christian Church.

Night to Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, is a prom night experience centered on God’s love for people with special needs ages 14 and older.

The eighth annual event brought together thousands of people from around the world to honor those with disabilities.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the safety of every honored guest as a top priority, for the second year in a row, Night to Shine was a worldwide Shine-Thru Parade and Virtual Celebration.

Shine-Thru is a drive-thru adaptation where guests still enjoy many of their favorite elements of Night to Shine from their vehicle. A drive down the red carpet, photo opportunities, music, decorations, gift bags, food, special guests and people dressed up as characters were some of the ways guests celebrated.

It was chilly and rainy Friday evening, but the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the participants or the approximately 100 volunteers. Many of the individuals in the parade are clients of The Arc of Jackson County.

Dan Weaver, associate pastor of Seymour Christian Church, said he was thrilled about the church hosting the event and the opportunity to serve.

Matt Hanks, youth pastor at the church, and his wife, Jena, worked alongside other church members getting things set up behind the scenes prior to the event.

Shine-Thru is a reverse parade where the participants drive through the designated route in the church parking lot and people stand on the sidelines and cheer them on, Jena said.

“The participants register and line up in their cars at Kasting Park and then will be led by a police escort up Kasting Road and into the church parking lot,” Matt said. “There will be a firetruck lifting up a sign saying we love them.”

Matt said the impact on everybody involved, not just people with special needs but those who are partnering with them, is amazing to see in the community, and he thinks that impact could change the way Jackson County views people with special needs.

“We are very excited, and this is the first time we’ve hosted the event, which has been going on for eight years now,” Matt said. “We’re hoping this is something we can do yearly.”

Melanie O’Neal, planning coordinator for The Arc of Jackson County, nominated Seymour Christian Church to be a host church for the event. This is the first year the event has been held in Jackson County.

“I’ve been serving people with special needs and disabilities the past four years,” she said. “I know our clients and have seen how much fun they have at other social events we’ve (The Arc of Jackson County) hosted in the past. I know our clients are going to love Night to Shine.”

Bill Elmore was the disc jockey for the event and was set up under a tent playing “I Love a Rainy Night” and other upbeat tunes while keeping a bubble machine going full blast.

There were dozens of people standing along the parade route clapping, dancing, waving and cheering as the cars drove by, including members of the church, Seymour High School cheerleaders, personnel with the Seymour Fire Department, Jackson County Emergency Medical Services, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and Seymour Police Department and many community members.

Volunteers Randy and Robin Boicourt were dressed up as characters, and Robin held a sign that read “Dream big, sparkle more, shine bright.”

Another volunteer, Laura Ruddick, held up a sign that read “Smile, you’re a star.”

“I’m a board member of Jackson County United Way and I’m volunteering because it’s important to support our friends and our partners, Mental Health America of Jackson County and The Arc of Jackson County,” Ruddick said. “I also have several family members that work with the disabled, and we always support them.”

At the end of the parade, each participant received a gift bag packed full of items just for them. That included a Night to Shine cup, a coloring book, crayons, hand sanitizer, bracelets, stickers, pencils, pens, a coloring poster, pill boxes, pop-it sensory toys, lip balm, koozie cups, regular and magnetic bookmarks and a crown or tiara.

Each participant also received baked spaghetti, a breadstick, cookies and water to enjoy back at their homes.

Kendra Knieriem and her daughter, Lauren, helped distribute food, while Veira Robbins and Jacob Guffey handed out gift bags.

“Night to Shine is a fun event celebrated worldwide, and the Tim Tebow Foundation is committed to celebrating people with special needs,” O’Neal said. “We are looking forward to sharing God’s love through this event, and we’re looking forward to worshiping with participants in the future at Seymour Christian Church.”

On a Facebook post, Donna Persinger said the volunteers all received quite a blessing at Night to Shine as they celebrated our community of special friends.

“Not only a night to remember for them but an unforgettable evening for us, as well,” Persinger said. “Thank you, Jesus, for this opportunity as we, Seymour Christian Church, were chosen by the Tim Tebow Foundation to host this event.”

O’Neal said her stepdaughter, Jorja, enjoyed being in the parade. The week leading up to the event, Jorja was saying, “Night to Shine, so exciting.” Now, she is saying, “Night to Shine, all done till next year.”

Participant Derrick Martin of Seymour said he liked seeing a lot of people coming out for them, and it felt good to see the signs. He wants to go again next year.

Stefani Wetzel, who lives near Medora, attended the event with her son, Jackson Legg, a student at Brownstown Central High School.

Wetzel said her favorite part was seeing all of the participants smiling.

“Seeing all the signs and people brought joy and happiness that my son was being accepted for who he is,” she said. “It was great to see this event brought to Seymour so all of Jackson County special needs high school and above age could have the experience and feel normal for one night.”

Wetzel said they hope Night to Shine comes back to Seymour.

“Hopefully next year, it will not have to be in a vehicle, that we will actually get to have a true prom for these individuals,” she said.

Legg said his favorite thing was seeing all of the characters and first responders.

“It was cool to see all the people, hear the music and all the signs made me feel very happy,” he said. “I can’t wait for it to come again next year, and hopefully, it will be a real prom.”

For information about Night to Shine, visit