When I went to prom in 1992, I had an amazing experience. I was a senior in high school, I was with great friends, and had the whole world ahead of me. I arrived in a limo with my girlfriend and and two other couples. We danced, sang along to the songs, and enjoyed a night that was just for us. We knew we would all be going to college in different corners of the country in just a few short months, so this was our night. We weren't worried about jobs, money, school, or any of the other problems that plagued us during the day. We were there to forget everything and have a great night. All of us!
...So I thought.
When I look back now, there were some classmates missing. Not just at our prom, but at the rival school, and the school in the other district that had the same mascot, and the school that was in the neighboring county, neighboring state, heck, all the schools were missing kids at the prom. Who were they?
They were your neighbors, your classmates, your friends. They all had something in common, too. They all had special needs. Some had neurological disorders, some had developmental delays, and some had physical limitations. Some didn't want to go because they were afraid to stand out, afraid of bullies, afraid of us. Others wanted to go but had nobody to go with. And some just didn't even feel like it was their prom. It was for everybody else.
But we didn't see them. We didn't notice. We danced. We were in the moment. I look back now and realize there were those that missed this magical evening. And it breaks my heart. I wish it weren't this way. Everybody should have the memories I have, regardless of their abilities. And then I heard about Night To Shine.
Night To Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience for people with special needs ages 14 and older. On this night, 375 churches from around the world hosts Night To Shine for 75,000 honored guests through the support of 150,000 volunteers!
I feel like I am winning a huge prize every year when I fill out my volunteer application and get the confirmation email. This is truly a night that will be a part of my memories for the rest of my life.
Night To Shine is put on by the Tim Tebow Foundation. Tim Tebow created this foundation in 2010 to bring faith, hope, and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.
Tim Tebow said, "When I was at one of the proms last year, a beautifully dressed queen of the prom was hugging me when the girl’s mom leaned over and whispered with tears in her eyes, ‘My daughter will never get married and she will never have children, but tonight you made her feel like a princess."
And that's exactly what happens.
Upon arrival, every gentleman receives a crown upon his head and every lady garnishes a tiara. They are in suits, tuxes, gowns, and dresses. Their hair and makeup are done and they come looking like celebrities on Grammy night. These kings and queens are then escorted down the red carpet by their prom buddy (volunteers). The paparazzi (also volunteers) are lined up on either side of the red carpet cheering and taking pictures each time another king or queen is announced. The joy on their faces is absolutely stunning.
Once inside, they have a chance to sit and enjoy a very nice meal before the festivities begin. After eating, they head to the dance floor and dance to the music being played by a professional DJ. It looks just like my prom way back in 1992. Streamers, balloons, music, and an electric atmosphere. Just outside the dance floor, there were photo booths, a VIP photo wall, refreshments, and smiles everywhere. And just outside the entrance doors, there were two, beautiful limos waiting to take the kings and queens for a ride.
I was lucky enough to be a volunteer again this year. On February 10th, at Trinity New Life church in Odessa, FL, I stood beside the red carpet and almost lost my voice cheering on the kings and queens, I danced until my feet hurt, and even indulged in a cupcake.
As much as I enjoyed myself, some of the true joy came when the parents and friends came to pick up the kings and queens and got to peek inside to see them all dancing and having the time of their lives. They cried and held each other, and took pictures. It was their night, too.
If you get the chance, and are lucky enough to have the time and energy (and dance shoes), volunteer for Night To Shine in 2018. It will change your life...forever.
A special thanks goes out to Kala Hamilton and her team, and the 190 volunteers that made this night happen. I'll see you next year!