By Jessica Vandervort ’20
On Feb. 9, 537 churches across the globe participated in Night to Shine, a prom-night experience sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, which seeks to bring the love of Christ to individuals with special needs.
The goal? Host a prom that celebrates all individuals and sends them back into the world, refreshed, and knowing that they shine in God’s image.
In our own backyard, North Shore Community Baptist Church (NSCBC) hosted their own Night to Shine prom, with five partner churches and over 300 volunteers. Amazingly, 102 of the volunteers were from our very own campus — 88 students and 14 faculty/staff. The night was filled with a schedule of events which volunteers and guests took part in together.
When a guest pulled up to the church, they found a host of cheering fans on the red carpet, snapping pictures and welcoming with smiles, laughter, and sometimes even hugs. Guests were then ushered inside to the check-in stations where they were paired up with a buddy for the evening.
Their families were shown to the respite rooms in the lower level, where they could rest and ejoy finger-foods, coffee, and dessert, throughout the night. A meal was generously catered by local establishments for the guests. One nearby bakery, donating cookies for the volunteers misread their order — instead of sending 40 dozen cookies, they sent 400 dozen.
On this Night to Shine, there were 111 guests in attendance, ranging from their teen years, to the elderly. Their “disabilities” ranged across a vast spectrum, from Autism, to Down’s Syndrome, to Cerebral Palsy and everything in between. Yet it was clear that these beautiful souls were anything but disabled in their ability to experience the joy of the night, and share it with those around them.
While there were a multitude of volunteer positions throughout the night — from karaoke, to shoe-shine, to dinner servers — the largest number of volunteers were recruited to serve as buddies. A buddy’s role was to stay with the guest through the evening, welcoming them; checking them in; taking them to get their hair and makeup touched up, or their shoes shined; getting them seated for dinner, and sometimes sitting and eating with them; taking them to karaoke or the dance floor; signing them up for a Limo ride; making sure they got their professional photo taken; and above all else, making sure they were given the best night of their lives!
The entire night’s festivities lead up to their culmination — the Crowning ceremony. Taking place just before dinner, this event is the highlight of the night for prom-goers. It is the crowning of the King and Queen of the prom, or should I say, the Kings and Queens. James 1:17 states, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” Seeing the guests as good and perfect, and made in the image of God, Tim Tebow made sure that a focus of each Night to Shine around the world, is the moment when each guest is crowned the King/Queen by their buddy.
At the end of the night, each guest goes back to their lives, and each volunteer to theirs, but the hope and prayer is that their lives will have been impacted forever. While the Gordon students who volunteered for this night may have gone into the event expecting to serve, it was clear that they left changed, inspired, and loved.
For some students on campus, this was their first experience interacting with those who have special needs, while for others this was a deep connecting point that had always been dear to their hearts. In any case, several talked about the noted difference in culture that night. There was a true sense of community among the guests which could be distinctly felt by the volunteers — a noticable difference to many from what their own prom experience had been like.
A culture that emerges among those with disabilities, complete with its own language of terms, understanding of body language, and appreciation for those who are different. These cultural intricacies could be observed rubbing off on many of the students throughout the night. For some, that meant they danced, laughed, sang, and enjoyed themselves with abandon, knowing they were in a judgement-free environment. Others poured themselves out in ways they hadn’t ever before been given the opportunity to do.
At the end of the night the guests left, the volunteers packed up and began their planning for next February, but the memories stayed with us all. If you felt inspired by hearing just a snippet of the story, please consider volunteering next spring. Definitely take the time to ask questions, hear stories, and be inspired by those who attended this year, and in the past. They will tell you that it is an experience unlike any other. The joy on the faces of the guests, and volunteers, alike was breathtaking and an assurance that the memories of this night will always truly shine!