By Leila Beem Núñez, News Editor
Fifty-four guests gathered for three hours of red carpet glamor, dancing and karaoke at the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center on Friday night, as part of the second Night to Shine prom hosted by Encounter Life Church in Manchester. Night to Shine is a prom celebration for people with special needs sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, and is hosted on the same night by hundreds of churches around the world.
“[Encounter Life Church] loves to do this, we just love it. It’s a great way to give back to this community, and it’s a wonderful night,” said Pastor Adam Cutshaw. “It’s worth every minute of it.”
This year, Night to Shine was open to guests 14 and older, and was hosted by over 350 churches around the globe.
During Night to Shine, a free event meant to offer everyone a dream prom experience, guests were welcomed with a red carpet and “paparazzi,” complete with a lit background for glamorous shot. The welcome was followed by dancing on the ball room floor, food and karaoke throughout the night. Each guest was paired with a volunteer at the event, or buddy, for companionship and anything else he or she might need throughout the night. Throughout the night there were hair and makeup services for guests, corsages and boutonnieres, shoeshining areas, a photo booth and even rides in a limousine – at no cost to guests. At the end of the night, each guest was crowned king and queen of the prom.
This year’s prom was Ruthie Arnold’s second Night to Shine.
“I love meeting all the different people, seeing all my friends. This is my second year, and I really like it. It gives me something to do while I’m younger. It’s really nice,” Arnold said.
In addition to the fun options for guests, the church also had a respite room for parents and other family members, as well as a quiet sensory room for any guest who might need it throughout the festivities.
Wanda Sullivan, who went to the prom with her daughter, Lacy, said she wished she had known about the event last year.
“I think it’s a great idea to have this. It gives us a chance to go out,” Sullivan said. “She loves to dance, and there aren’t really lots of places we can go. She can dance all night; we were dancing earlier, and I was going to stop, and she said, ‘No, I’m not done yet.’”
Many volunteers said the prom experience for them was just as enjoyable as it was for the guests they signed up to accompany.
“This is great, just to see their faces light up as they come down the red carpet,” said Amy Jackson, who said she was happy to attend when a friend called her last-minute to say more volunteers were needed.
Ashley Jones of Encounter Life Church, who coordinated the event, said the night could not have been possible without the help of the 98 volunteers who signed up.
“It is amazing to watch our community come together to celebrate these special guests. This event truly was a night to shine, not only for our guests but also for Manchester,” Jones said. “We could not have been successful without each and every one of our volunteers.”
Oslin Gulick of the MCCCC said the conference center was proud to host Night to Shine again this year.
“The one thing that we understand is that how we involve ourselves in the community comes around full-circle, and we want to be a part of all the good things we can here,” Gulick said. “It’s so special to see these folks who might not have had that [prom] when they were growing up to really feel like the night is shining on them. We’re just fortunate that budget and timing just seems to have worked out and fallen right into place.”