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A Night to Shine

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DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY: Special needs prom guests dance with their assigned volunteer buddies at The River Church’s annual Night to Shine prom sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
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GETTING DOWN: Adults and teenagers with special needs enjoy a night of dancing with a live DJ and the companionship of volunteer buddies at the Night to Shine prom sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation at The River Church.
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SPARKLE AND SHINE: A glass bottle of twinkle lights adorned with lace and ribbondecorates a table at The River Church’s Night to Shine prom Friday night.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell - erussell@chronicle-tribune.com

At The River Church on Friday night, over 130 teenagers and adults with special needs dressed to the nines and partied at the third annual Night to Shine prom, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.

Executive Pastor Amy Biegel explained that the event, free to all special needs guests, includes limousines, a karaoke room, corsages and boutonnieres for all attendees, a red carpet, and crowns and tiaras for every guest.

The prom is an annual event in hundreds of churches around the world, according to the event page on the Tim Tebow Foundation website. On the first year a church hosts the prom, Biegel shared, the event is entirely funded by a grant from the foundation. After that, the funding is the responsibility of the church.

At The River, half of the prom’s expenses are factored into the church budget. The other half of funding comes from community donations from individuals and businesses. Kelly’s The Florist on South Western Avenue donates all the prom flowers every year, and the limos are funded by a private donor.

“(The community) rally around this population,” Biegel said. “This is a night to highlight their families and make them feel special.”

The event is always hosted on the weekend nearest Valentine’s Day, which can be a depressing and lonely time for many single special needs adults. The prom gives them a chance to have fun and feel noticed, loved and valued, Biegel said.

When guests arrive at the prom, they enter on a red carpet and are ushered to rooms where volunteers do hair and makeup for the glamorous evening. White, aqua and black decorations intermixed with sparkling silver-white stars hang from the ceiling.

The dancing area is large and lit with twinkle lights across the ceiling and on white Christmas trees, with a DJ playing as guests and their volunteer “buddies” dance and celebrate the night together.

The River Church’s Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator Bridget Lamb assists Biegel by overseeing the details of the event. The night requires over 300 volunteers, with about 200 buddies assisting guests while another 100 people do hair and makeup, direct parking and prepare and serve food and drinks.

“We have a lot of special needs adults that attend our church at The River, but (the prom) is not just about them,” Lamb said. “It’s about the community.”

Biegel said that, on the church’s first year hosting this event, guests drove from several areas such as Huntington to attend the prom. Now, more churches outside of Marion and Grant County are hosting their own proms for those communities.

The Tim Tebow Foundation requires Night to Shine proms be hosted by churches as a way of encouraging churches to develop ministries for people with special needs. The River Church now has a dedicated special needs ministry and has helped other churches develop their own.

“Families often think that their loved one is inconvenient to the church,” Biegel said, explaining that families worry that children and adults with special needs will be seen as disruptive or that churches aren’t prepared for their unique requirements.

The River Church first hosted the Night to Shine prom when a local school called and asked them to consider hosting, Biegel said. A parent of a special needs student at the school had heard about the event and wanted one hosted locally, setting off momentum in the community.

Community members interested in volunteering at the Night to Shine prom or supporting the event through donations can contact The River Church online at theriver.cc. For more general information on the national event and the Tim Tebow Foundation, visit www.timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine.