Two churches, representing two Christian denominations in Douglasville, have come together with a unifying spirit to nurture and grow a seed that began here three years ago and continues to thrive for a special needs population.
"Night to Shine" has been called an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14-and-older, and its light will shine brightly tonight in Douglas County and all over the world.
The Tim Tebow Foundation is sponsoring Night to Shine with 540 host churches across the United States, in 16 different countries on six continents and in 33 different denominations. More than 175,000 volunteers will welcome 90,000 honored guests and share the same incredible prom experience simultaneously on one night around the world.
This year marks the fourth anniversary of Night to Shine.
The First Presbyterian Church of Douglasville, in partnership with Crossroads Church of Douglasville, will literally roll out the red carpet tonight on the Crossroads campus for approximately 164 special guests and their buddy volunteers, for what has to be the most glamorous night in Douglas County.
"First Presbyterian and Crossroads churches are collaborating this year, allowing us to grow the event over previous years," said Melanie Gibbs, who has co-chaired the event for all three years. "We have 164 honored guests registered, compared with 125 registered last year, and 422 volunteers have committed to help make this event happen."
She said, "We at First Presbyterian are so pleased to be collaborating with Crossroads Church this year. It is encouraging to see the growth for Night to Shine both globally and right here in our own community. And to be working with other Christians to share God’s love is especially rewarding."
The Rev. Dr. James Harper, senior pastor of Douglasville First Presbyterian Church said Night to Shine continues to grow.
In its first year two years ago, "Night to Shine" had 100 guests and 400 volunteers serving those guests. One hundred of the volunteers were ‘buddies’, which means that each guest had someone to serve as a friend and a host. In 2017, the event brought in 125 guests and even more volunteers than last year, he said.
"Night to Shine is a worldwide movement that changes Valentine’s Day weekend from simply a celebration of love to a celebration of God’s love for people with special needs." said Harper.“It is an unforgettable prom night experience,” said Harper. “It is a celebration of the value of life — a night when all guests are kings and queens of the prom — held simultaneously on one night around the world.”
Night to Shine provides a red-carpet Hollywood-style entrance complete with bright lights and the flash of paparazzi cameras and limousine rides.
Not a detail goes unnoticed, from "the corral" in Crossroad's large, open hall, a beauty salon and "finishing room" and other areas stocked with refreshments to having a medical team on-site to care for medically-fragile individuals. A quiet sensory room has also been set up for when the excitement of the event might become too much for an individual, according to Crossroads' representative Michelle Pethel.
Guests receive the royal treatment, including professional photographers and videographers, professional hair and makeup stations, shoe shining areas, limousine rides, corsages and boutonnieres, a professionally catered dinner, a professional disc jockey, karaoke, prom favors for each honored guest and a dance floor —all leading up to the moment when each guest is crowned king or queen of the prom.
"This is what the guests enjoy the most," said Pethel. "being crowned king and queen — that and the limousine ride around the building."
You would think that the honored guests would reap the greatest blessings from the event, but that isn't necessarily the case.
“We have a lot of volunteers from the community as well as from the church,” Harper said. “So many of the volunteers are blessed by the experience and we are blessed that people want to serve. Everyone felt universally overwhelmed by being a part of it.”
While it gives individuals with special needs the night of a lifetime, it also provides some tender loving respite for their parents and caregivers, including being fed a nice meal, given some well-deserved pampering and entertainment from a known comedian.
It also provides some heartfelt memories for parents of those with special needs, who never imagined they’d see their sons or daughters all decked out in finery from head to toe and experiencing the magic of a prom experience.
"Our participation in this prom is one way to speak a different word about people than the one commonly heard in our society that says peoples value is assigned based on what they can do or how they look," said Harper.
"That message has caused people with special needs to endure a burden of being deemed less valuable than others. Our Christian faith declares that all people have intrinsic value because they are created in the image of God. That means all people are to be treated with dignity regardless of their abilities or their looks. We are glad to elevate that message to the larger society."