With music blaring and dozens of volunteers cheering, The Journey Church rolled out the red carpet – literally and figuratively – for local teens and adults with special needs on last week.
“The smiles show this is a memory that will last,” outreach pastor Steve Miller said as he looked out at the festivities in the church’s East Chestnut Hill Road parking lot.
Dubbed “Night to Shine,” the Feb. 11 event was one of hundreds being hosted by churches worldwide through an effort coordinated by the Tim Tebow Foundation. This marks the seventh year the former NFL player and his foundation have organized proms for people with special needs.
The proms usually take place in ballrooms, but due to the pandemic, this year’s Night to Shine was converted to a mostly virtual event that streamed online Feb 12. However, participating churches were encouraged to hold a “Shine Thru” drive-thru event the night before to provide a fun atmosphere and distribute gift boxes to participants.
Journey set up a large tent in the parking lot, with a red carpet running down the middle. Families drove through the tent, and volunteers decorated their cars, took portraits of the guests of honor and handed out crowns, flowers and other gifts. As the cars passed through, other volunteers danced, cheered and waved signs of encouragement, and several Disney characters also made an appearance.
Journey’s event included approximately 50 people, high school age and older, with the average age 26, according to Miller.
“We love to be able to bring smiles to their faces,” he said. “When they show up, they are the guests of honor. The red carpet is rolled out.”
This is the first year Journey has been invited to participate in Night to Shine.
“We jumped at the opportunity to bring some home to families in the special-needs community,” Miller said, noting the church is already looking forward to holding an in-person prom next year.
Wearing a tiara and bright lipstick, Toni Harris was all smiles as she made her way through the tent in the passenger seat of her dad’s van.
“She eats this up,” her dad, Tony, said.
The family has participated in Night to Shine at other churches for the past several years.
“It’s neat to see all of them dressed up, looking good and enjoying themselves,” he said.
Jenny Kent, also a veteran Night to Shine participant, smiled widely as volunteers handed her a gift box. However, her favorite part of the night, she said, was “seeing the Disney characters.”
Gary Taylor drove through the tent as his daughter, Jordan, soaked up all the attention.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” he said. “For them to do this is so awesome.”