First Baptist Church Windermere was one of 375 churches worldwide to host Night to Shine — the Tim Tebow Foundation’s special-needs prom — on Feb. 10.
WINDERMERE Every time the limousine doors opened, kings and queens stepped out to a red carpet lined with applause and cheers that echoed up and down Main Street in Windermere.
Fairy lights added a little sparkle to the air, as friendly paparazzi pointed their phones and cameras at the VIPs, whose smiles were infectious. Each king and queen was dressed to the nines, a crown or tiara topping off the look.
It was all a part of the royal treatment for the evening at First Baptist Church Windermere’s Night to Shine event on Friday, Feb. 10.
Night to Shine is the brainchild of Tim Tebow and his foundation, an event that gives special-needs people ages 14 and up an unforgettable prom night experience that is centered on God’s love. And on Feb. 10, 375 churches in all 50 states and 11 countries honored 75,000 of them.
“GENUINELY FILLED WITH JOY”
Walking in to the lobby at First Baptist Windermere’s downtown campus, the atmosphere was bustling as volunteers and families got the kings and queens ready for their big night. The boys sat patiently as their shoes were shined. The girls were giddy as they prepared to be pampered by a design team that did their hair, nails and makeup.
As they were paired with their escorts for the night — their “buddies” — and headed off to take photos and ride in the limousines, they were coronated with a sleek crown or sparkly tiara.
Gina Schmidt, a co-owner of About Face Design Team, couldn’t stop smiling as she watched the girls on her team work diligently and meticulously on each guest, making sure she looked her best for a special evening.
“Sometimes you come and give because you want to and you love to do this, but I actually feel like we actually get more out of it than we give.” — Gina Schmidt, a co-owner of About Face Design Team
“Our company loves to give back to the community, and this was just a way we could give back to this area,” Schmidt said. “It’s so sweet to watch everyone coming in; all the ladies are so excited, and they look so beautiful in their gowns and their sparkly little crowns on, and they’re so happy. It makes me happy. Sometimes you come and give because you want to and you love to do this, but I actually feel like we actually get more out of it than we give.”
And from the smiles on their faces while walking up the red carpet and dancing with their buddies, it was evident that other volunteers felt the same way.
“It was really exciting to see him (my buddy) having so much fun. He was genuinely filled with joy and having fun,” said Amanda Peck, a church member and buddy for the event. “I volunteer quite a bit, but it’s really awesome to serve other people and make a nice experience for them, and that makes me happy.”
“JUST THE WAY GOD DOES”
After running around handing out crowns and ensuring that guests were checked in, Denise Burch, the church’s special-needs ministry director, finally got to sit back for a minute and watch as the guests and their buddies hit the dance floor and let loose.
It’s only the second year the church has hosted the event, but more than 320 volunteers signed up to help make it happen.
“The guests, I know they love it, they love the music and all of that stuff,” Burch said. “My hope is that the volunteers really enjoy themselves and realize that it’s not difficult to be around people with special needs. Sometimes they don’t know what to expect or feel that they’re going to do something wrong, but in a setting like this, it’s easier because you get to have fun and know them more personally.”
And for senior pastor Chuck Carter and his wife, Gina, the event is also personal — their son has autism and was one of the VIP guests for the night.
“He was able to go to proms at his school, but many can’t do that,” Chuck Carter said. “Some just don’t have an opportunity to do something like this, so when we found out that Tim Tebow Foundation was doing this we wanted to be a part of it. As the pastor, that’s my vision for our church — that we care about the community and want to bless the community.”
Gina Carter added that Tebow always said Night to Shine is a night for people with special needs to shine, when they are told that they matter and that God has a plan for their lives.
“That’s one of the things that is really important to us. These kids sometimes are forgotten and maybe looked down on, but watching so many people seeing their worth (is incredible),” she said. “(It’s important) to really have this many people in the community seeing them as something special and important — just the way God does.”
“IT’S LIKE OUR FAMILY”
“Don’t eat too much of that candy, Blake, you’re going to make your stomach upset,” Cynthia Isbell told her son as he prepared to dive right back in to his bag of treats.
“My favorite part was being with Luke (my buddy). We danced, we ate food, and my favorite part was riding in the limousine with Luke.” — Aldrena Isbell, party guest
Blake, 21, and his sister Aldrena, 17, were two of the VIP guests at Night to Shine. They’re also members of the church’s special-needs ministry. The two have developmental delays resulting from a genetic cause. Blake serves as an usher at church, and Aldrena helps out, too.
“My favorite part was being with Luke (my buddy),” Aldrena exclaimed as she talked about her night. “We danced, we ate food, and my favorite part was riding in the limousine with Luke.”
The Isbell family lives in Minneola but makes the half-hour commute to Windermere frequently to allow Blake and Aldrena to serve and be involved in the special-needs ministry.
“One Sunday morning, I was really tired and not feeling good and I said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to stay home today,’ Marvin Isbell said. “Blake says, ‘Dad, they need me there.’ So I got up and got dressed. They have a great special-needs program, and the kids love coming here. It’s like our family. They (the kids) have older folks that love them, younger folks that love them, and there’s a whole community that just makes them feel loved and accepted.”
Looking around the room and watching as volunteers hugged their buddies goodbye and helped break down the setup after the night was over, Marvin Isbell couldn’t help but get a little misty-eyed. All were there for one purpose: to love on people with special needs and show them God’s love.
“It makes us thankful that there’s enough people to take such an interest in this kind of thing and the happiness that these kids enjoy, the fun that they have,” Marvin Isbell said. “It makes them enjoy life. It’s amazing how many people donate their time. Sometimes it’s difficult for them (kids with special needs) to fit in, and this is a home where they’re all loved.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at email@example.com.