Grace Baptist Church was filled with love, laughter, dancing and karaoke Friday night as volunteers and individuals with special needs came together for a memorable “Night to Shine.”
The third annual Night to Shine is a nonprofit event sponsored by former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow that gives people with special needs ages 14 and older the opportunity to attend a full-scale prom.
Kings and queens
Jessica McKenzie, director of Night to Shine in Vermillion, coordinated the event for the third year in a row.
“Tim Tebow Foundation provides grants to churches that apply, and there’s hundreds of churches that do this all over the world, so it’s an international event,” McKenzie said. “From Haiti to Kenya, (on Friday) people all over the world (got) to experience this incredible feeling.”
McKenzie said she wanted event attendees to feel treasured.
“It’s all about making the guests know they’re completely valued, so they leave with the feeling of being a king or a queen,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie and her event coordinators decorated the church with a red carpet runway, a professional photoshoot and a dance floor with a DJ. Each couple was greeted with loud cheers and applause from fans and spectators when they reached the end of the red carpet.
“It’s a really important event because this is a population that gets unnoticed a lot of times, so this brings a lot of attention to them in such a positive way,” McKenzie said. “A lot of people haven’t interacted closely with the guests that we’re working with, so it breaks down a lot of stereotypes and barriers by opening up opportunities to connect with them through this awesome event.”
A special night
Each guest was escorted by a buddy, or a volunteer like a USD student or a member of the Vermillion community. Each buddy had to pass a background check and go through a brief training in order to be involved in the event, McKenzie said.
Christina Silver, an occupational therapy graduate student, volunteered as a buddy for the first time at this year’s event.
“We want them to know they’re special and important, and hopefully that’s what they get out of this special night,” Silver said. “It brings more inclusiveness to everyone and shows people are all equal.”
Rose Ruffinott, a first-year special education major, was also a buddy for the first time. She said she saw this event as an opportunity to appreciate people with special needs.
“I’m majoring in special education and this is a great way to get experience,” Ruffinott said. “It gets me out of my comfort zone by meeting new people as well.”
Steve Ford, head pastor of Grace Baptist Church, said Night to Shine drew 150 volunteers, which is the maximum number they host. He said he was amazed by how the event brought the community together.
“I’m really proud of our community because this is a group of people whose lives are a lot more difficult than most of ours, but they don’t get celebrated that often and we want to let them know how significant and valued they are by celebrating them,”