MIDDLEBURG – Seventy-four guests with special needs had control of the dance floor Friday night during Clay County’s first-ever Night to Shine event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
For the past four years, the Tim Tebow Foundation has hosted Night to Shine events across 50 states and more than 20 countries around the world. This year marks the first time a ‘Night’ has been held here in Clay County.
“I love being here. It’s very cool that this is for us,” said Raina Pringle, commenting on the prom held at St. Luke’s Catholic Church.
Pringle had been to two Night to Shine events before, but she said this year’s is her favorite. She was accompanied by Nick Speight, 18, a volunteer from Oakleaf High School who had never attended A Night to Shine before. Speight said that seeing this kind of an opportunity for people with special needs means a lot.
“This is so awesome,” Speight said. “You know, she doesn’t get opportunities like this often and to see her here now, to see everyone having such a great time, it’s really awesome.”
St. Luke’s Events Coordinator Jackie Arsenault said the church has always been involved with events like this for those with special needs. They’ve hosted Luaus, Halloween dances and more. After learning about Night to Shine, St. Luke’s applied to become a host site and last October, the church learned it had been selected.
“Other sites that have been doing this for years know exactly what to do to prepare,” Aresenault said. “After we found out we were selected, we only had four months. I can’t say enough about our volunteers and our Clay County community that has really stepped it up to help make this happen.”
She said the community had a huge hand in making the night special. And the night of their lives did the 74 guests receive.
A chauffeured luxury car delivered each guest to the prom entrance. Rooms were set to help the women with hair and makeup, while the men could go to another room to get their shoes shined. From there, the guests, whose average age was 28, were seated for dinner.
After filling up on food, everyone took to the dance floor for music and karaoke. While most proms conclude with a ceremony honoring a single prom king and a single prom queen, this event saw every guy and girl named prom king or prom queen, complete with a crown or tiara.
For Cheryl Padgett, 42, though, the tiara was simply a bonus. What made this night so special for her was the man sitting across from her during dinner – her boyfriend.
Padgett and her 52-year-old boyfriend, Erik Leach, have been together since July 14, 2014, but they aren’t able to see each other as often as they’d like. Night to Shine, though, gave them the opportunity to see each other and dance while elegantly dressed.
“Me and him live in different homes so we don’t see each other as much as we want,” Padgett said. “We get to be together tonight, and I love it.”
For Padgett and Leach, a night like this, a Night to Shine, is a privilege they’ll never take for granted.
“I’m here and he’s here with me and it’s such a privilege,” Padgett said. “I never forget nights like this.”
“I am blown away by how we are seeing God use the Church to step into this space as an advocate for people with special needs. It’s not about my foundation or the churches themselves, but about communities coming together to love and celebrate people with differences. Every town, every village, every state, every country needs a Night to Shine for their special needs community – a chance to be a part of something significant and life-changing…and to be blessed in the process,” said Tebow, founder of the Tim Tebow Foundation, in a press release.
When Night to Shine launched in 2015, 44 host churches and 15,000 volunteers worked together to honor more than 7,000 kings and queens of the prom. This month, the event was expected to take place in over 650 locations.