A guest and his date arrive at the Night to Shine Prom Friday night at Fairview: the Grace Place. / W.C. Mann
FALKVILLE – On Friday evening, the special needs community of a multi-county area around north Alabama gathered at Fairview Church of God, known as The Grace Place, in Falkville for the Night to Shine Prom. This is the congregation’s second year to host the event.
Night to Shine is a program of the Tim Tebow Foundation, which defines this ministry as “an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older.”
Event coordinator Kelli McAnally explained, “This is a free event for our attendees, people with special needs aged 14 years or older. They are invited to come dressed and ready to meet their date for the evening and then load into the limos for a ride around to the front entrance where our huge crowd of fans and ‘paparazzi’ will cheer them on as they walk the red carpet! At the end of the red carpet they will have a photo op in front of the Night to Shine backdrop, then be ushered into our beauty/shoeshine area for a quick touch up before they are escorted to the prom floor where we have a live DJ, food and a huge dance party! Towards the end of the evening there will be a special video message from Tim Tebow himself, followed by the crowning of every attendee as our prom kings and queens!”
There were special touches for the target audience, like “buddies” to hang with and look after each special guest, and a sensory room where guests could retreat when the lights and music got to be a bit too much, but it really was a prom. There were prom pictures, music, a DJ, karaoke and a dance floor that became increasingly busy as the night went on. The crowd got to welcome more guests: Elsa and Anna were there, along with Snow White and Elvis. Even Santa took a break from his end-of-season vacation to drop by.
This year’s event more than doubled last year’s. 2017’s prom drew 67 guests; 2018 could surpass 150. According to McAnally, by around 7 p.m. most of the 138 pre-registered guests had arrived, and an unknown number of walk-in guests had joined in the fun, as well. In addition to 138 buddies for the registered guests, more than 200 other volunteers provided buddies for walk-ins, entertainment, food and drinks, security and medical services as needed.
Fairview Pastor Milan Dekich talked to The Tribune about his church’s decision to become involved in the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine program.
“I was looking on Facebook, and I saw that Tim Tebow was doing the Night to Shine and kind of promoting it, and I thought, ‘We’ve always been a church that tries to reach out to needy people, to reach the least of these.’ You know, ‘If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me,’ Jesus said. And I said, ‘That looks like something exactly what we need to do;’ so I talked to our staff. They loved the idea. We applied for it–it’s an application process–we applied for it and we were accepted. Last year was our first year to do it. Danielle Hays and Kelli McAnally took it over, and they have done a marvelous job,” said Dekich.
“You know, it’s not just our church. We’ve reached out; the whole community is helping do this. We’re just the facility that it’s done in, but the whole community pitches in and helps us. We have a team that’s been working on it for months. There’s a lot of logistics that go into it, but we’re just excited to help this group of people that, any other time, probably would remain hidden.”
Dekich continued, “No one knows how many special needs people there are because they’re at home, they’re not out in public, and we’re not aware of this whole population of people that no one knows about. One dad told me: he said, ‘I never dreamed that I’d be preparing my daughter for a prom, and you’ve given me that opportunity to do that.’ You know, that’s something they’ve never experienced before in their life that every other kid experiences, but they didn’t get to. So we want to give them the chance to show them that we love them, that God loves them, and just have a good time!”
After their second year hosting Night to Shine, Dekich and McAnally agreed unconditionally that there will be a third prom at their church, and that they will begin planning for next year before the dust even settles from this year’s event. The Grace Place is excited.
“We have a great group of people here at Fairview,” said Dekich, “a group of people that serve other people. Our motto is ‘Serving others with the love and grace of Jesus Christ,’ so our whole mission is to serve other people. So we are constantly looking for ways to serve; and whenever we do, people are generous, they volunteer their time, they give money, they serve others . . . I’ve been here for 38 years, serving as pastor here. I’m very excited about what God is doing, and what He continues to do, because we feel like we’re here to show God’s love, and to show them that He loves them and accepts them, and that they can be His–they can belong to Him.
“And it’s a good community, too. We work with our other pastors, our other churches, to do things together. We do projects together. It’s just a great community; there’s a lot of unity here, a lot of love here. All the churches work together for the common good of serving God.”
Learn more about Night to Shine and the Tim Tebow Foundation at www.timtebowfoundation.org.
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