By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
Hundreds of special needs individuals in the state were given a night to remember Feb. 9, courtesy of Tim Tebow and several Louisiana Baptist churches.
Dressed in their formal attire, these special guests enjoyed a variety of activities to make them feel like kings and queens in God’s eyes at the fifth annual Night to Shine prom.
Eastwood Baptist Church, Haughton, Cypress Baptist Church, Benton, Fellowship Church, Prairieville, and the First Baptist Church, Ruston – were among the 655 churches in 50 states and 11 countries that hosted the event, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. The former Heisman Trophy and NFL quarterback started the event five years ago for people who have special needs.
From the beginning, the evening was magical for the guests, who were transported by limousine, trolley or classic car to a red carpet. Once there, they were greeted by an enthusiastic group of volunteers armed with cameras and cheers from the crowd.
Guests received the royal treatment, including hair and makeup stations, shoe shining areas, corsages and boutonnieres, a catered dinner, karaoke, prom favors and a dance floor.
All of this led up to the moment when each guest was crowned king or queen of the prom.
“Tonight is so special because there are so many things in our society that tare people apart,” Tebow said in a video message broadcast to the host sites. “Tonight is a night that brings people together. Every single person is important. We’re all loved. We’re all created in God’s image. There is a reason and a purpose for our lives. It’s my honor without any further ado to crown every single one of you as the king or the queen of the prom.”
Tara Smith, Night to Shine coordinator for the First Baptist Church, Ruston, told the Baptist Message the evening was a celebration and encouragement for 134 individuals with special needs, their parents and the 360 volunteers. Louisiana Tech cheerleaders, church members and others greeted the guests as they entered the student center on campus.
“It’s such a blessing to see how no matter their physical limitations, they were so happy,” Smith said. “They were crying to experience all of the activities that went on during the night. After it ended, one parent told me her child with special needs had always been able to attend something like this, and she was so excited to finally have that chance.”
For the more than 700 volunteers at Cypress Baptist Church in Benton, Night to Shine was the most powerful display of the church being the hands and feet of Christ that Pastor John Fream has seen, proclaiming “our church will never be the same.”
Alyssa Chauvin, Night to Shine coordinator for Fellowship Church in Prairieville, said the need was so great they moved the event to the nearby Lamar Dixon Expo Center in nearby Gonzalez to accommodate the 235 guests and 500 volunteers. While the event required many weeks of planning and much of their Saturday, the event was a success when Chauvin saw the joy on many faces.
“The smiles were from ear to ear,” she said. “They were filled with absolute joy. Many of them get left out of events like this, but for this one special night they were able to experience an evening that make them feel like kings and queens in God’s eyes.”
Cypress Baptist Church in Benton and Eastwood Baptist Church in Haughton teamed up to provide a memorable evening for 360 special guests. Courtney Bouillon, family minister for Cypress Baptist, said 850 volunteers from both churches participated.
“There is nothing like seeing their smiling faces,” Bouillon said. “One of the parents said that she loves this night because she gets to see her child feel the most normal and have the best time. They each brought so much joy to everyone they came in contact with throughout the evening. Our volunteers were forever changed and we feel like we were blessed way more by their presence than we could ever bless them.”