Imagine going to a prom where everyone is treated like royalty and crowned a king or queen. There’s curbside limousine service with a red carpet, flashing lights from the paparazzi, a cheering crowd of onlookers and U.S. Air Force Honor Guard members greeting every guest inside with an honorary arch of sabers as they enter the ballroom.
Right around the corner from all the action is a team of volunteers helping girls get their hair and makeup done, while others are shining shoes for the guys or affixing fresh flower corsages and boutonnieres to outfits. Each guest is then assigned an escort as they wait in line to be swept away by bus or one of three stretch limos, whichever is their preference.
That was the scene on Friday evening in Waldorf at the Jaycees Community Center and adjacent Old Waldorf School, where nearly 700 local volunteers and special needs individuals participated in the 2019 second annual “Night to Shine” of Charles County. The event, which is sponsored worldwide by the Tim Tebow Foundation, was hosted by members of First Baptist Church of Waldorf as an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love for people with disabilities ages 14 and up.
“This is our second annual event. It’s a partnership between the First Baptist Church of Waldorf and the Greater Waldorf Jaycees,” said Ken Weikel, a Night to Shine board member who is also a member of the church and owns the Waldorf Chick-fil-A. “We have approximately 237 guests attending tonight and almost 400 volunteers. All the guests are paired with a buddy upon arriving at the Old Waldorf School. We have hair and makeup for the girls and shoe shines for the guys. Everybody gets a flower, boutonniere or corsage. And then, they get the special treatment of riding in a limo and being dropped off at the Jaycees Community Center with a red carpet celebration prior to the main event.”
For Weikel, Night to Shine is a great example of God’s love combined with lots of fun, entertainment and food that is unlike the typical prom experience.
One unique thing that the First Baptist Church of Waldorf did ahead of time was host a clothing drive, which enabled all attendees to pick out their attire along with shoes and accessories free of charge.
The church also partnered with various organizations including The Arc Southern Maryland, Spring Dell Center, Charles County HARC Inc. and the Charles County Public Schools system to select participants for Night to Shine, which Weikel said was “a big deal.”
“We had three different nights [at our church] where the guests could come and pick out a dress, tux, suit, shoes and jewelry. It was all complimentary for all who signed up to come,” he said. “It’s just an honor to serve the special needs community. A special needs prom is what it is. A lot of these guests would never, ever be able to go to a prom or have never got dressed up before. This is just a really big deal for them.”
“For our church, it’s incredibly important to show God’s love to all people,” Weikel continued. “The Greater Waldorf Jaycee’s is very much also about serving the special needs community and elderly population. If you look around tonight, there’s a big range of ages. They youngest age is 14 all the way up into 70s. They’re having an absolute blast.”
According to the Tim Tebow Foundation’s website, Night to Shine celebrated its fifth anniversary this year as the impact is felt all over the world. More than 650 churches from around the world came together to host the event for approximately 100,000 honored guests, along with the support of 200,000 volunteers. Last year, Night to Shine was hosted by nearly 540 churches nationwide in 16 different countries.
Tebow’s ultimate mission is “to bring faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”
His parents served as missionaries in the Philippines during his early years and instilled in him the importance of God’s word, the salvation that others can find in Jesus Christ and desire to make a difference in people’s lives by giving back.
“It was about four years ago that we first thought of this idea,” said John Flatley, another Night to Shine board member. “We saw a similar event going on in Indiana, and several members at our church started talking about the opportunity to serve a community that’s not being served. Quite honestly, one of the things we feel that the Tim Tebow Foundation talks about is being devalued every day by our society. So, we wanted to show how much we value them and how valuable they are.”
“The opportunity for us to crown each guest a king or queen of the prom, and to tell them that they are valuable, that we love them and that they’re lovable is priceless,” Flatley added. “You see the looks on their faces and tears in their eyes. It also tells their parents and caregivers that they’re valuable. What better way to give back to our community; what better way to take care of our community than to do something as simple as this? We’re not putting on this just to say ‘now you need to come to our church.’ We’d love for that to happen if people need a church. But it’s really about providing something for the community that we feel is missing. It’s a great opportunity for us to share our love for them in tangible ways.”
The Greater Waldorf Jaycee’s Community Center donated its facility for the event complete with special lighting and decorations and prepared a buffet-style dinner selection for all guests. Other features included karaoke, a photo station with fun costumes, video presentations and a balloon drop.