Even as a drive-thru format with a virtual celebration, the impact of Night to Shine 2022 was felt all over the world.
This year, the Tim Tebow Foundation’s event is back to its original format.
Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience centered on God’s love for people with special needs ages 14 and older, according to timtebowfoundation.org. This will be the ninth anniversary, as thousands from around the world will come together to honor those with disabilities.
For the second year in a row, Seymour Christian Church is among the host sites for the Feb. 10 event.
Doors open at 5:15 p.m. and dinner will be served at 6 p.m. at the church, 915 Kasting Road, Seymour. There is no cost to participate or volunteer, but you must register online at seymourchristian.com/nighttoshine because registration is limited. A background check is required for volunteers.
The church will accommodate 150 special needs guests, and it hopes to have the same number of volunteers.
“The layout of this event is for each participant, each guest to be able to have what they call a buddy, someone who can be with them during that time and just be their friend and be part of that experience with them,” said Steven Bruce, the church’s lead pastor.
Registration opened Jan. 6, and by Wednesday, 45 participants and 42 volunteers had already signed up.
Since it’s a prom event, formal wear is encouraged but not required. Upon arrival, participants will be greeted by volunteers outside the church.
“We’re going to have 50, 75, 100 people out there cheering for them and just excited, smiling and holding signs, and so I think that’s a huge need, as well,” said Matthew Hanks, the church’s student pastor. “The more people that we have in that kind of position, the better the experience from the get-go is going to be. That’s really the moodsetter is the amount of people we have outside cheering for our guests.”
As guests make their way into the church, they will register and receive a corsage or a boutonnière and have an opportunity for pampering and shoeshining. There also will be two photo stations — one with a photographer taking pictures in front of a backdrop and the other as a photo booth.
At 6 p.m., a home-cooked meal with desserts and drinks will be served. That will be followed by disc jockey Shawn Charlton playing music as attendees dance.
Volunteers will be needed at the registration table, manning the hair, makeup and shoeshine areas and for food prep, serving and busing tables. There also will be a sensory room if anyone feels overstimulated and a respite room for parents and caregivers to take a break, and volunteers will be needed for those areas, too.
Plus, Bill Elmore will be at the event giving guests an opportunity to take a ride around town in a limousine.
At the end of the night, Tim and Demi Tebow will share a video message and have a surprise for the guests.
“This year, just to be able to witness that, 300-plus people in the same room seeing this video go on and the surprise that they get, if you’re in the front and you’re looking back, it’s going to be a tearjerker, for sure,” Hanks said.
On their way out, guests will receive gift bags. Melanie O’Neal, executive director of The Arc of Jackson County, said she already has received some donated items for the gift bags and she has some promised items.
“This is my fifth year of doing nonprofit work in Jackson County, and it knocks me off my feet the generosity and the collaboration to do any work, but especially to pull off this big event,” she said. “It will be the largest event that we have done.”
O’Neal is accepting donations for the gift bags, too.
“Basically, anything that you could use in your life or your home, our clients could use in their life or their home — as long as it isn’t perishable or breakable, as long as it’s safe, no small pieces,” she said. “If people don’t know what to buy, they can make a tax-deductible donation to Seymour Christian Church or The Arc and we could order.”
While last year’s drive-thru event was remarkable and fantastic, nothing compares to the regular Night to Shine, Hanks said. He has been to a couple of those in the past.
The other organizers are looking forward to it, too.
“The hope is that these folks would feel loved and cared for and this would be a night they would remember, that the attention is on them,” Bruce said. “This is a community event that we’re hosting in hopes that the special needs community will experience a wonderful night, but then as we all grow closer together, they would experience the love of Jesus, which is especially what this is all about.”
O’Neal said the event offers a free, safe, nonjudgmental environment and is a great partnership between The Arc and the church.
“This is about the big picture of people having relationships with Jesus Christ and having a place to go worship him,” she said. “Night to Shine is that magical night to bring everyone together, but that’s the planting of the seed. We want to see the growth. We want the seed to grow. That’s the big picture.”
Hanks said this is a unique experience for the special needs community.
“This is all about them. It’s not about us. It’s not about their buddies. It’s about them,” he said. “We are doing everything we can for them for the three hours or however long that they are there. They are the focal point, so seeing them smile and laugh and enjoy and be pampered, I think that’s a big thing. They don’t really get to be a part of that, to experience that as often as they should, and so this is an opportunity where everything is about them.”