- February 13, 2023
WEST ORANGE Next week, 30,000 special-needs individuals worldwide will hit the red carpet for an unforgettable prom experience through the Tim Tebow Foundation — and some of them will be at two local churches.
Radiant Life Assembly of God in Orlando and First Baptist Church of Windermere are two of more than 200 churches in 48 states and eight countries that will host the Feb. 12 Night to Shine, a free prom event for individuals ages 16 and older with special needs.
Jessica Cromwell, of Radiant Life, said the foundation provides participating churches with materials such as banners, a red carpet, a background drop, decorations, and gifts for the guests, such as backpacks, picture frames and cups. Each church will host a dinner and dance, karaoke, a photo booth, a live DJ, limo rides, a hair and makeup section and a shoe-shining section.
And when guests check in at registration, each will receive a crown or tiara and a corsage or boutonniere.
“They’ll be on the red carpet where they’ll be greeted by welcoming paparazzi that will take their photos, and we’ll have those provided for the foundation after,” Cromwell said. “They’ll go into the room, and we will have appetizers and refreshments and desserts for the guests, minding all of their dietary restrictions. The dance floor will be open and we’ll have karaoke and we’ll have a respite room for their caregivers, so they don’t have to leave if they don’t feel comfortable leaving.”
To be a host for Night to Shine, churches have to go through an application process through the foundation, which will then determine whether a need is in the community and churches have appropriate facilities and are willing to stick with the planning.
“When I heard about Night to Shine, I was like, ‘Let’s do it,’” Cromwell said. “I went to the pastor and was like, ‘Can we host this?’ And he absolutely was on board. … We do have an individual in our church family who’s actually one of our ushers but he has Down syndrome. He loves to dance, he loves to sing and he’s definitely part of our family, and I was like, ‘This is a night for him.’”
First Baptist Church of Windermere, which has a special-needs ministry called A.C.C.E.P.T., also was chosen to host the event after Senior Pastor Chuck Carter applied.
“Our senior pastor has a son with autism who has aged out of the school system, and he really enjoyed the prom that he had throughout his high-school career, and he talks about it all the time,” said Denise Burch, A.C.C.E.P.T. ministry director. “His mom had been online and discovered Night to Shine and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do it at our church?’ Unbeknownst to her, the senior pastor applied for it … and lo and behold, we were awarded to host it, so we’re really excited.”
Cromwell said she is most looking forward to seeing the looks on guests’ faces when they arrive on the red carpet.
“They’ll be there, they’ll get to feel loved and special and will get to hear that they’re beautiful and handsome,” she said. “It’s just a night all about them.”
Registration for Night to Shine at both churches is still open, and guests are welcome to sign up until the day of the event or until the event is full. Each location can take up to 100 guests. At Radiant Life, the dinner and dance will be held in the church sanctuary, while First Baptist Windermere will host its celebration in the gym at the church’s downtown Windermere location.
And as an added element of surprise, none of the locations knows whether Tebow himself will show up at their event; it is completely up to him to decide where to go. But Cromwell said the night is all about the guests and making them feel like royalty.
“We just want to show that we are here, and that we welcome you and you will be loved, like Christ loved the church and loved everyone,” Cromwell said.
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected]