It won’t be long before a teenage tradition is held once again. It’s prom night, when young men and women get dressed in their finest and enjoy a special celebration of nearing the end of the high school phase of their lives.
It is a night the youthful are made to be feel special.
For people with special needs, the excitement, lights and sounds of prom night may be a bit overwhelming, or because of their life situation they don’t feel very special.
For that, the Tim Tebow Foundation has for the last three years sponsored an event that this year will be held in more than 540 churches worldwide.
Tim Tebow is a professing Christian, former pro football and pro baseball player who is also seen as a sports analyst on television. His foundation is committed to celebrating people with special needs.
Night to Shine is a prom night experience for those people ages 14 and older. This year’s Night to Shine is set for Friday, Feb. 9, as it is always held the Friday before Valentine’s Day.
One of two locations for the special evening in the Mid-South this year is at Longview Point Baptist Church, 1100 McIngvale Road in Hernando. The other is at a church in Memphis.
Outside of Hernando, New Albany and Jonesboro, Ark. are holding similar events that night, according to the Tim Tebow Foundation, which estimates 90,000 attendees this year, being made special by an army of about 175,000 volunteers.
Pastor Wade Humphries of Longview Point Baptist Church notes Night to Shine not only uplifts those it is made for, but also those who help make it a rousing success.
“It’s exciting to see our church family and our community really excited to put their energy into trying to bless others,” Humphries said.
Organizers are quick to point out that Night to Shine, estimated to host more than 230 people in Hernando that evening, is a community event.
Patti Allen leads the Hidden Treasures special needs ministry at Longview Point. She was made aware by a church member about Night to Shine three years ago and moved ahead to hold the first event, despite having just a couple of months to put it together.
Allen said each person who attends gets a buddy to be with and assist them on their special night, adding it takes almost 500 volunteers in total to hold Night to Shine.
“The community response is amazing,” Allen said, adding, “When the Scriptures talk about being like Christ, a lot of times we don’t what that looks like. When they will walk into that room, they are the most important person in that room.”
Sara Jane Russell, assistant principal at Lake Cormorant High School, has been coordinating the Night to Shine event for the church. The community support has come from the general public and from schools in the district.
“All the schools have come together and asked, ‘what do you need from us?’” Russell said. “These are our students, our friends, so it has really become a community event. We have lots of big supporters.”
In advance of Night to Shine, the girls have gotten to try on and select their dress for the evening from a shop where about 1,000 dresses have been donated, while the guys have also been fitted with their choice of tuxedos.
That night, from Hernando Hills Elementary School at about 5:15 p.m., they will be picked up and driven to Longview Point in limousines and delivered to the front door.
The special treatment continues as they walk up on a red carpet, are greeted by members of the Lake Cormorant Junior ROTC in a military salute, meet their buddy for the evening and then head to the dining area for the meal. From there and a greeting from Pastor Humphries, it is dancing, games and fun for the rest of the evening, capped off by a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m.
Russell pointed out the parents of the prom night honorees also are given the chance to have their own special meal and take a break from their own care for their child.
While being a night of dinner and dancing and being made to feel special, Pastor Humphries explained Night to Shine provides a chance to see pure love in action.
“It communicates what is one of our core beliefs, in that all people matter to God,” Humphries said. “Jesus loves everyone and this event allows us a platform to let people know that. We let people with special needs and their families know that they are precious in God’s sight.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.