Something special happened last Friday night, not only across our entire country, but also across the globe. Young men and women ages 14 and up, put on their finest attire, got their hair and makeup done, rented limos, and then walked the red carpet to be crowned king or queen at a prom thrown especially for them.
A prom thrown by none other than former professional football player, Tim Tebow. In a video posted on the Tim Tebow Foundation Facebook page, Tebow explains that “four years ago, when my executive director came to me and said, ‘Hey, we heard about [this] prom this church has for people with special needs, and what would you think about doing one?’ And I just fell in love with it and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And he said, ‘Where?’ and I said, ‘Everywhere!’”
And apparently, he wasn’t joking. Because on February 9, in all fifty states, and sixteen foreign countries, over 500 churches in conjunction with the Tim Tebow Foundation helped 175,000 volunteers throw a prom for 90,000 amazing guests appropriately named, “Night to Shine.”
As the mother of two special needs children, this entire concept brings me to tears — as it did for the many parents whose children were crowned that night.
“It means the world to us that Kody was able to attend,” exclaims Kim Conely, speaking of her son Kody who hasn’t had the easiest life.
“He was born with hemimegalencephaly, a rare seizure disorder that at 11 weeks old, caused him to have half of his brain removed,” she says. “He is now 16 and after many more surgeries, is in a wheelchair, deaf in one ear, and legally blind, among other issues, but he never stops smiling and never complains. He has a larger than life personality and makes everyone in the room smile. For Kody to be able to be part of something so big and special is amazing! He endures so much pain and suffering, and I love that for one night he gets to feel not only special, but also typical; surrounded by people just like him! He loves being part of his community, and it’s so amazing that there are no words to describe it.”
Proudly sharing a photo of Kody living up the night, you can’t deny that Tebow’s mission goes beyond simply throwing a party. He really, truly wants each guest to have at least one night to shine, despite the obstacles that plague their daily lives.
“The Tim Tebow Foundation and the hosting churches paid for everything,” says Donna Pardue, whose daughter Teresa Crumpton was able to attend the event with the help of Northfield Church in Gallatin, Tennessee.
“They had gowns, tuxedos, and anything else a guest might need, right down to making sure that everyone’s hair, makeup, and nails, were done,” says Pardue. “They did everything they could to make the guests feel special, and then had them arrive in limos to walk the red carpet.”
And I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t even the outfits and the limos that made the night so special. Living in a world where people with disabilities are often segregated, separated, left behind, or pushed off to the side because they are different, the Night to Shine prom gives them a chance to stand out, and be celebrated for everything that makes them special.
“The world is opening up for Michael,” says Jen Davis, whose 19-year-old son was able to attend Night to Shine with his buddy Blake Baker.
“When we actually find one of these experiences — where people with disabilities can live an experience without being hindered by it — we are ecstatic!” Davis shares. “The joy and the wonderment is palpable. Michael knows what is socially expected of a high school student. They go to dances, they go to camp — and he is excited to experience them! He’s bright and catches on quickly, despite his severe language delays due to his disabilities, including autism. We all want to experience joy and freedom, and organizations like this one provide that by looking beyond the disability and finding a way for them to experience the best of life.”
As for myself, I’ve never been a football fan. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you which team Tebow played for. But as the parent of special needs children, I may be his biggest fan yet because he’s not just rooting for my team — he’s joined it.
“I want to give, I want to care, I want to love those kids” he says in his video. “I want to celebrate with them, I want to dance with them, I want to let them have the night of their life. And honestly, it’s not just the night of their life where they get to dance, they get to have fun, they get to ride in limos, they get to walk down red carpets, it’s so much more than that. Because maybe for the first time, they realize that they’re worth it. They realize that they’re special. They realize that they’re loved, and there’s not much more important than that.”
And that, right there, sums it all up. We all, despite our genders, ethnicities, abilities, and disabilities, deserve to be celebrated for who we are.
Thankfully, Night to Shine reminds us of that in the form of 90,000 prom king and queens, who for one night, are treated like the royalty they are.