Area individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities got their night in the spotlight Friday.
Baldwin County’s Northridge Christian Church was one of more than 700 churches around the world to host the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine, a prom night experience created specifically for those with special needs. More than 150 “guests” got all dappered and dolled up, danced and sang karaoke as part of the big celebration. To close out the night, all of them were crowned prom kings and queens to really give them the full experience.
Northridge connections pastor Amy Raburn says the annual event has become a fixture for the church even though it’s only been held locally for four years.
“I think if we decided not to [host Night to Shine] the church would revolt,” Raburn said jokingly. “It’s something that’s a big part of who we are — serving the community. One thing we like our guests as well as the community to know is that they are not alone and that the whole community is cheering for them. That’s the cool thing about the red carpet. From the minute they pull up and the doors are opened they see smiles and know they are loved by their heavenly father. We want them to see they were created in the image of a God that loves them. We do it because that’s what God’s called us to do.”
As Raburn mentioned, guests are given the red carpet treatment. Usually, they roll up to the church in a limo, but Northridge’s Night to Shine has been given its own local flair as Milly the trolley, Visit Milledgeville’s tour transport, brought guests to the church Friday night. Guests walk through the door and are greeted by cheers and the “paparazzi” eagerly waiting to photograph them. But the royal reception doesn’t stop there. Women and girls head to hair and makeup done while the guys go to get their shoes shined, all duties handled by local volunteers. Raburn shared that more than 500 people signed up to help with this year’s event at Northridge.
Most people would agree that no prom experience is complete without a date, so Night to Shine takes care of that as well. Guests are partnered up with “buddies” who escort them throughout the night. The buddy role is also taken on by volunteers, some of whom are Georgia College students working toward a degree in special education.
“The fun thing about it to me is, we do get new guests every year, but for many years we’ve seen the same faces,” Raburn said. “It’s been really cool to develop those relationships. A lot of our buddies will request their guest from last year.”
The buddies remain with their guests and accompany them to two of the night’s most popular attractions, the karaoke room and the dance floor.
“If you don’t like dancing or feel self-conscious dancing, this is the place where you need to dance,” Raburn said. “I call it the best dance floor in town because there’s no judgment. It’s just fun and love.”
The Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine just completed its sixth year of creating a prom night experience for special needs individuals all around the world. According to the foundation, more than 215,000 volunteers helped put on Night to Shine for over 110,000 guests in all 50 states and 34 countries in 2020.
“As I reflect on year six of Night to Shine, I can’t help but think how incredibly unique each event is around the world and even around the country,” Tebow said in a statement. “From cities like Rome, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, to Jinga, Uganda, Nepal, Haiti, Kolkata, India, and Mazatlan, Mexico … the cultures are as different as the many languages, but the language of God’s love transcends them all. The reach of this worldwide movement to share faith, hope and love is truly humbling and encouraging. Seeing the faces of these Kings and Queens being loved and celebrated across the globe — knowing each one of them is being shown the truth that they are significant, valuable, and worthy — I can’t help but get emotional. It’s a dream come true seeing so many people come together from around the world to experience this one night, and see each face reflect the love of Christ in their joyful smiles and beautiful spirits.”