The Night to Shine 2023 sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation brought thousands of special needs guests and twice that many volunteers together in over 600 churches across the country on Friday, February 10 for an evening to celebrate each other.
Locally Spencer Baptist Church in Spindale hosted the worldwide event welcoming more than 80 special guests from across the county to the church's Family Life Center for an evening of dancing, food and the time of their lives.
Attired in evening gowns, suits and ties the guests were dressed for the occasion as they entered the Center that was decorated with a Winter Wonderland magical touch.
"Love was in the air," said Dana Lail of Forest City, the mother of guest Isaac Lail, who attended with his buddy/volunteer Kenzie Edwards.
"The decorations were gorgeous...The food was delicious, music was fantastic, all the great dance songs," Dana said.
Although Isaac had been sick the week prior to the event, he "tested negative for everything" and was able to go," Dana said. "It was an amazing night. All the outstanding work was indeed worth it all," said Dana.
Every guest was welcomed by church and community volunteers as they walked or rolled in wheelchairs onto the red carpet to the center where for a few hours the evening was all about them.
They were treated royally from the moment they arrived and until they left. Every guest was crowned King or Queen of the Prom beneath an arch of colorful balloons and to the cheers of those attending.
Linda Tribou, another mother of a special guest said, "The evening allows my child to experience an amazing evening created just for her. Corinne loves to dance, and loves to be with her friends. At the Night to Shine she can be who she is and not worry about judgement from others," Linda said of her daughter Corrine.
Royal treatment included shoe shining areas, limousine rides, corsages and boutonnieres for everyone, a catered dinner, plentiful desserts, karaoke, prom favors and a dance floor with music by DJ Will Bovender. All led up to the moment when every guest was crowned Queen and King of the Prom.
"God certainly did shine down a little brighter on Spencer Baptist on Friday for the Night to Shine," said church pastor Rev. Bruce Caldwell. "Seeing all the smiling faces, the dancing, the laughing, truly warmed my heart. Our special guests, as well as all of the awesome volunteers created memories that will last a lifetime."
Kelly Settlemyre, Music and Education Minister at Spencer said, "Night to Shine was worth every late night, every last minute detail, every difficult moment, and every celebration! Every person walked out of the building smiling. Our goal at Spencer Baptist Church is to share God's love in tangible ways; to love God and love people. Friday night, our church and our community did just that."
Settlemyre shared this story about one family she observed as they arrived with their special guest.
"The guest came in with his mom and dad, appearing a bit overwhelmed. I watched as these precious parents guided their son to a space that was not crowded and sat with him while they listened to the music in the distance. After about 10 minutes, I noticed they had moved closer to the main room. Later in the night, I saw that family sitting around the dance floor and our guest was cautiously bobbing his head to the music. These parents held a safe space for their son until he was ready to experience the fullness of the event. I was reminded of how God often creates similar safe spaces for all us until we are ready to dive into whatever the anxious situation may be."
Spencer Church was part of a worldwide movement that God is using as a catalyst to change how cultures embrace people with disabilities and to rally the church worldwide to honor their local community of people with special needs, ensuring they know they are valued and loved, said a spokesperson from the Tim Tebow Foundation.
"At the Night to Shine, you can feel the love in the air, you really can," Tribou continued. "You can feel God's love and presence surrounding each guest as well as volunteers and parents. I loved seeing the high school kids as buddies, they were so kind, gentle and understanding to their guests."
There was no cost for any guest to attend. Donations came from the community, families, individuals, businesses and the Tim Tebow Foundation.
"I thank Spencer Church for all of the work, planning and dedication in creating the Night to Shine for my daughter and all of our special quests," said Linda, who works as secretary at the church.
Linda said her daughter had been to several other Night to Shine events in other county's and keeps all her photos on a coffee table to encourage her throughout the year.
Prior to the big night, Spencer Church had a few hundred gowns donated to the ladies and they were invited to attend "say yes to the dress" event and choose a gown for Night to Shine. A seamstress was also on site and the ladies had an opportunity to choose from a variety of jewelry also donated.
There were also donations of suits and ties for the men.
During Night to Shine there was also a respite area for the caregivers and parents to enjoy a couple of hours of relaxation while their loved ones were assigned a buddy to be with them throughout the prom.
Caregivers and parents were pampered with neck massages, simple manicures, delicious food and live music. They also received a door prize, donated by community merchants.
Although Spencer had hosted a Night to Shine two years previously, last week was the first in-person event due to the global pandemic.
"I'm so excited Night to Shine 2023 was back in-person," said Tim Tebow, who made sure every person knew they were loved.
As sponsor of Night to Shine the Tim Tebow Foundation provided every church host with the official 2023 Night to Shine Planning Manual, personalized guidance and support from a Tim Tebow Foundation staff member, the opportunity to apply for financial grants, and access to planning resources that assisted them in creating an unforgettable night for their honored guests.
Night to Shine was launched across the world in 2015 with 44 host churches and 15,000 volunteers honoring more than 7,000 kings and queens of the prom. In February 2020, 721 host churches and 215,000 volunteers came together to celebrate 110,000 honored guests with special needs.