Last Friday evening marked the first Night To Shine for Ellis County. Night To Shine is an event hosted by the Tim Tebow Foundation. From their website, “Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. This February 7, 2020, Night to Shine celebrates its sixth anniversary! On one night, 721 churches from around the world will come together to host Night to Shine for approximately 115,000 honored guests through the support of 215,000 volunteers!”
I had the privilege of photographing the evening. There were hundreds of volunteers from around the county. From cheering and welcoming the guests of honor, to serving food, to being a “buddy” for the evening – the massive effort to love and care for these special individuals was a beautiful thing to behold. The event was held at The Avenue Church in Waxahachie, and led primarily by Stephanie Schaefer and Molly Denny. Dinner was served by Chick fil A Waxahachie and Tacos 4 Life, and dessert was provided by Nothing Bundt Cakes. Several photographers volunteered their time and talents. Karaoke, a craft station, limo rides, and a photo booth kept the guests busy throughout the evening. The main sanctuary was where the dance floor was, complete with dancing, singing DJ’s, and balloon twisting. I have photographed many a party and hundreds of weddings in my photography career, and I have never witnessed such pure, unbridled fun. Some took to the stage to show off their best moves, while others danced along with the Chick fil A Cows or with their buddies on the dance floor.
Perhaps the most touching moment of the evening was the special message simulcast on the big screen where Tim Tebow shared with all the guests, “It is truly my honor right now, to crown every single one of you as the King or Queen of the prom!” Cheers erupted as he continued, “Even more important than being crowned King or Queen of the prom tonight, we believe that’s how the God of this universe looks at you every single day of your life. That’s how important you are, that is how special you are, that is how loved you are.”
There are undoubtedly hundreds of stories from that evening – from the guests’ experiences to how the volunteers were moved to tears. I know personally that my cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing the entire evening! These dear, precious souls that were crowned Kings and Queens for the evening radiated joy. They challenged us all to see past their special needs to the amazing individuals that they are, and what their lives can add to our communities.
We were sent several testimonials from the evening, and we’d love to share them with you now:
“Night to Shine was a night to remember! The red carpet was laid out as buddies and volunteers lined up on each side awaiting the arrival of each guest. I’ll never forget the look of my guest, Ingrid, as I escorted her down the red carpet. While loud noises can be overwhelming for Ingrid, the screams of joy and loud clapping didn’t seem to hurt her ears or make her uncomfortable this time. In those few moments as we walked down the red carpet, I saw Ingrid look at the faces of the people celebrating her arrival, cheering her on, showing their excitement that she had arrived! Through my tears, I could see the awe on her face. She was expected, she was seen, she was celebrated for being exactly who God created her to be. I imagine our arrival in Heaven will be very similar to the experience Ingrid had tonight. What a beautiful experience I got to partake in!!! I won’t soon forget all the smiles and high-fives, not to mention all the new dance moves I learned! Tonight, Ingrid’s light shined so bright! I’m so grateful to NTS, for giving these amazing guests and their buddies a night to eat, dance, and laugh, but mostly, for reminding us all of God’s incredibly deep and endless love.” – Linda Esselman
“The Tim Tebow Night To Shine Prom has become a highlight of the year for our family. My daughter, Destiny, has attended for the past 5 years in a row, and has come to know that that’s HER night. She and her boyfriend, Kobe, attend together each year, strutting down the red carpet and pausing for the paparazzi before dancing the night away, and being crowned king and queen. Every part of the night is so special. The love and inclusion from the host church and volunteers is overwhelming. I have not been able to get through one event without tears of joy. Each year, it’s better than the last. This year, I served on the planning committee and saw first just what it takes to make this magical night happen, and it makes it that much more meaningful. This year was the first year my younger daughter was old enough to serve as a volunteer buddy. She is not the most outgoing person but has a passion for the special needs community. I was so proud to watch her take a leadership role and break out of her shell. This event is just as beneficial to the volunteers as it is to the prom guests. Last night was the best night of all. The world presents many limitations for my daughter, but at Night to Shine, she is invited in, given a stage, told how beautiful and amazing she is, and shown how much God loves her, and she has the time of her life. I am with Tim Tebow!! Night To Shine night should be a national holiday!!” – Crystal Wells
“I had a blast tonight, the chicken and cake was delicious and the music man (DJ) was so funny. He made us sing and dance until my feet hurt. My buddy was so nice to me and she said she was going to stay in touch with me, I think I made a new friend. They told us that God loves us so much. Night to Shine was a good night and I am happy I got invited”. – Becky Fields, 43 years old. Daymark Living resident.
It took many people for this event to happen. Special thanks to co-chairs, Stephanie Schaefer and Molly Denny, Jason Bankhead and Stacey Guillen with the Avenue, committee members Kourtney East, Crystal Wells, Jon McLaughlin, Reba Griesinger, Laure Henthorn, Dr. Jennifer Smolka, Thomas Spigener, and Amber Adams. Many businesses donated services and goods, as well.
– Ami Trull is the Content Manager for EllisDownHome.com – She is a 5th generation resident of Ellis County. She and her husband, Jay have two sons. Ami is also a photographer and graphic designer. She is passionate about telling the stories that matter most.