By Sharon Mager
COLUMBIA, MD — Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D churches are putting the Tim Tebow Foundation’s national “Night to Shine (NTS),” at the top of their favorite events. What’s not to enjoy at this prom, that is specially designed for those with special needs?
NTS volunteers pamper guests, treating them like royalty, with limousine rides, a red-carpet reception with paparazzi, and dinner and ballroom dancing, as well as games, a photo booth, and karaoke. At the end of the evening, guests are crowned as kings and queens.
Volunteer “buddies” escort each guest through the evening. While their family members or charges are enjoying the night, caretakers have a separate area where they get a chance to relax, eat, and mingle with others.
The 2019 NTS is Feb. 8. More than 650,000 churches from around the world host the event and welcome over 100,000 guests with the assistance of more than 200,000 volunteers.
Christine Robertson, who oversees NTS for Emmanuel Baptist Church, in Huntington, Md., said there was so much excitement from the 2018 prom that folks were eager to help this year. “Even before registration opened people started asking, ‘when can we register’?” Robertson said.
“People don’t expect to be touched by the experience as they are that night. My husband worked the photo booth. He said, ‘I had tears in my eyes watching everything that happened.’ It‘s truly a God thing — He is there,” Robertson said.
“A lot of vendors that sponsored us begged to come back. They’re also touched by what they see,” she said, and several vendors are offering their services for free.
Randy Stacks, associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Waldorf, in Maryland, agrees. Volunteers and vendors are anxious to return and help out, he said.
“It’s a great evening,” Stacks said. Those in the special needs community in the church tend to gravitate and hang out together, he said. The prom gives them special attention.
Stacks said the Waldorf Jaycee’s Club “totally stepped up.” They’re partnering with the church, providing their large Jaycee community center with a banquet hall, and they’re providing the food.
The hall is perfect, Stacks said. There’s an old school building on the grounds they’ll use for registration and check-in before the limousine arrives to take guests around the property to the front door.
Deanna Lechowicz, NTS coordinator at Faith Baptist Church in Glen Burnie, Md. said many church members, and their friends and families are eager to volunteer each year. She’s also heard from other churches and small groups interested in serving.
Some vendors are providing free services or deep discounts. A state trooper is providing security for free.
Lechowicz said NTS has also served as a bonding opportunity for the church, and a way to open the eyes of many people who haven’t been exposed to the special needs community. Those who were afraid discovered the evening was delightful, and there was no reason to fear.
Cresthill Church (CC) in Bowie, Md., will have more room to spread out this year for their prom. Last year they met in a tent because the church was remodeling the sanctuary and it was fabulous, but packed, said Margot Painter, CC Night to Shine Chairman. She too has been inundated with people calling to volunteer — so much so that she had to set up a separate email account.
“People want to help and be a part of it,” Painter said. In addition to church participation, CC has volunteers from other churches, organizations and community groups. Bowie’s Chief of Police will also attend for the third year and he’ll bring several other officers for support.
This is CC’s third year hosting the prom and each year they’ve worked hard to make improvements. “It’s a year-long process, rather than a few months,” Painter said. Many vendors that have been partnering with CC for the past three years are also getting excited about planning for the event.
Local Chick-Fil-A restaurants are providing food at most of the events. At CC at least one Chick-Fil-A cow will be roaming the hallways.
On the Eastern Shore, “Delmarva Night to Shine,” is a first-time NTS venture, working as a partnership between Grace Church Seaford, in Delaware, the BCM/D and the Eastern Baptist Association (EBA), and with local community churches. Corporate sponsors have also stepped up to help. Larry Davis, the pastor of Grace Church, said the church, convention, and association partnership is also a “win.”
Larry said that in addition to a variety of vendors, the local police chief, EMS workers, and school teachers are all involved.
“This has been an adventure,” Davis said, and he’s excited. Davis said that in addition to serving as a fabulously fun night to remember for people with special needs, it’s also a chance for churches to build relationships.
“It helps people have an opportunity to intermingle with the community for future evangelistic outreach,” he said.
The event will be at Heritage Shores in Bridgeville, in Delaware, a beautiful and a “neutral” location, Davis said, letting people know they’re not promoting a church to the community. Instead, they’re partnering with the community.
For more information about “Night to Shine,” visit their website. To register a guest, or to volunteer, contact each NTS sponsor. The event is free, but space is limited.
For similar news items check out these articles:
- Read coverage about past Night to Shine events in BCM/D churches.
- Read about Cresthill Church’s special needs emphasis and the beginning of The Gathering Place
- Check out BCM/D’s special needs ministry resources