For five years now, the Tim Tebow Foundation has sponsored Night to Shine, a prom night experience geared toward individuals with developmental and behavioral disabilities.
For three years now, Northridge Christian Church in Milledgeville has served as one of hundreds of Night to Shine church sites around the world making memorable experiences for this group of people.
This year, more than 500 community volunteers came together to produce the event that served 150 guests — up from 117 last year — Friday night.
Once guests walk in the door they are matched up with buddies who serve as their dates for the evening, and they promptly head to an area of the church set aside for beautification. The ladies get their hair and makeup done by cosmetologists volunteering their time while the guys get their shoes shined as a final step of preparation for the big night. In previous years, guests got to “arrive” in limousines, but this year a distinctly Milledgeville twist was added. The Milledgeville Convention & Visitors Bureau’s trolley Milly, the driver of which donated his time, took guests around the building and dropped them off at the door where they were welcomed by GMC cadets creating a saber arch, cheering volunteers, and photographers capturing all the moments.
“It truly does give them a night to shine,” said Barbara Coleman, director of the local Life Enrichment Center that serves special needs individuals. “I was looking at one girl — it was her first year at Night to Shine — and the expression on her face tells it all. She truly was beaming and glowing with happiness. The smiles, the laughter, and the friendships these individuals make really tell it all. For those three hours, everything was dedicated to putting them in the spotlight and showing them love through a community that comes together and says this is all about you.”
Many of the volunteers serving as buddies were teaching candidates from Georgia College’s special education program. Dr. Roddran Grimes, GC assistant professor of special education, says that around 80 students were involved in Night to Shine in some way.
“It made a tremendous impact,” Grimes said. “Most of our students are doing their student-teaching in the various schools around the area in Putnam County, Jones County, and here in Milledgeville so they were able to interact with their students in a different way and in a different setting while supporting them in a fun, uplifting way.”
Guests and their buddies enjoy meals donated by a local restaurant, sing karaoke, and of course, take to the dance floor making a night that neither is likely to forget.
According to the Tim Tebow Foundation, 655 churches across the globe hosted Night to Shine events last Friday. More than 100,000 honored guests got to be the center of attention thanks to the help of 200,000 volunteers.
Honored guests like Carol Mathis’ daughter, who has attended Night to Shine all three years it has been held locally. Mathis said her daughter looks forward to the event all year long and even has her dress picked out for next year.
“I think it has an impact on everybody,” said Mathis. “Anyone who’s associated with Night to Shine gets a blessing out of the night. The smiles on the guests’ faces almost outshine the sun. I think that everybody should be required to go see a Night to Shine event because it would be a positive impact on their lives.”
Amy Raburn, connections pastor at Northridge, said the church is planning on continuing the event due to the positive impact it has had on the community in each of the past three years.
“It’s just a really cool night where our community comes together and shows people the love of God. … Our plans are to keep doing it because we see how much it benefits the community as well as the individuals and their families.”