Remember the excitement of high school prom? Picking out the perfect dress, getting a corsage and dancing the night away with friends? Partnering with the Tim Tebow Foundation, the Ocean View Church of Christ will be hosting its Third Annual Night to Shine on Feb. 8, for a special group of attendees.
According to its website, Night to Shine is “an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older.”
More than 650 churches worldwide will host the event on Friday, Feb. 8. Ocean View Church of Christ is one of three Delaware churches to participate.
“We pretty much have maxed out the capacity of the building each year,” said Gina Warrington, a parishioner who volunteers to help with the event.
Those who wish to participate must register, either by going to the Night to Shine website or calling Ocean View Church of Christ.
Warrington said the church first became involved in the outreach event through former pastor Gregg Wilgus and has been continued with its current pastor, Ethan Magee.
“He said, ‘Let’s try that, because with our new Life Center, we had the ability to host that many people,” she recalled, noting that the church has been behind the event ever since.
On the evening on Feb. 8, prom-goers will arrive at the church, where they will be assigned a buddy who will spend the remainder of the evening with them.
“We’ll have groups of six or so go out our side door, down the ramp and into a limo. They take a limo ride around the community and are dropped off at an entrance, with a red carpet, are greeted by people taking pictures and fans,” explained Warrington. “After they walk in on the red carpet, the men can get their shoes shined, the women can get their hair and makeup touched-up or put on.
“They’ll have a formal photo taken, and then they are escorted into the area where the dinner is served. From that point on, they do typical prom things — there’s a DJ with dancing, there’s karaoke, a spot where they can have some fun pictures taken...”
A large-screen television will be set up downstairs, where parents may stay throughout the evening, enjoy dinner and watch the prom activities. Five furniture companies provide furniture for the parents’ evening.
“The first year, we had the meal and furniture, but a lot of the family wanted to watch the action. Now they can do so without crowding out the gym.”
Warrington said the evening requires a great deal of help from the community, needing 100 volunteers just to serve as buddies. That’s doesn’t include the support from the business community, which donates goods and services at no charge.
“We have about 220 volunteers, of which about 100 are buddies of the guests,” said Warrington. “We have grown by about 20 guests from the first year but keep our maximum attendance of guests at 100. We serve three separate meals — one for guests and buddies, one for parents and one for volunteers. Three limousines are provided for guests to get a ride around town and then dropped off at the red carpet to be greeted by ‘paparazzi.’ Seven restaurants help by providing some of the food. All guests receive a professional picture in a frame to take home.”
The Ocean View Police Department also takes part in the evening, offering security for the event.
“I think this Night to Shine initiative is awesome,” said Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin. “It’s a great opportunity for folks with special needs to come out and have a fun night and participate in this prom-like experience. It’s a really neat event, and we’re looking forward to it being hosted again here in Ocean View.”
McLaughlin said he was first contacted about the event three years ago, due to his department’s involvement with the local special-needs community.
“We host a number of events annually here at the police department as part of our ongoing community outreach. We also have a good relationship with all the churches here in town,” he said. “When the [former] pastor, Gregg Wilgus, called and was talking to me about it, I thought it was a great idea and offered to assist. Subsequently, we got involved in it, and go out and assist with traffic control and helping provide security for the event.”
Warrington said watching the attendees enjoying their “night to shine” is what makes the church continue to host the event.
“Probably the best way to explain it is, when they come in on that red carpet… the looks on their faces is just priceless,” she said, noting that there are videos on the event’s website that capture reactions. “There’s one of a young lady — I can’t even describe the look on her face… She looks like she just won the lottery. It means so much to them. They become the most important person in the world that night.
“I think the thing I love the most is, every single one of them become prom king and queen that night. They’ll each get their own crown or tiara. And when you see the reaction of the people who are there… You can’t put words to it.”
Those who wish to support the event may do so through financial donations through the Tim Tebow Foundation website or by contacting the church directly.
“We’re fortunate that all of the churches in our area are active in the community, and we’re lucky to live in a community like where there’s so much going on all the time for people to get involved in and help each other,” said McLaughlin. “It says a lot about our community, I think, that we do these outreach programs. With this event, specifically, it says a lot about the leadership at the Ocean View Church of Christ. It is a big undertaking. A tremendous amount of work goes into it.”
“Our mission is to introduce people to Jesus,” Warrington said. “This is a way we’re able to do that — showing love and compassion for people who are special,” she said. “The real hope that we have is that all the attendees have the night of their lives... the most enjoyable time they’ve ever had… and can recognize they truly are important people in the world.”
To learn more about Night to Shine, how to volunteer, attend or donate, visit https://www.timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine. The Ocean View Church of Christ is located at 55 West Avenue in Ocean View. To contact the church directly, call (302) 539-7468.
By Maria Counts