Night to Shine:

A Different Kind of Valentine's Love

My husband, brother and myself at Night to Shine last weekend.

Occasionally I give in to the doom and gloom, the notion the world is a terrible place full of uncaring people. Fortunately, I don’t succumb to the negative emotion often; I have too many great friends and family who remind me of the goodness in the world. If I were in doubt about the kindness of strangers, an evening spent at Night to Shine, the prom for people with special needs, reassured me there are wonderfully giving, loving people in our community. Night to Shine was like spending an evening wrapped in a soft cocoon of love, the rare kind of love that asks for nothing in return but gives for the sake of others. Pure love.

Like the majority of parents who have adult children with special needs, my mother’s biggest concern as she aged was my brother, who has intellectual disabilities. Although David was happily residing in a great care home, my mother lovingly cushioned his life with lots of visits, endless phone calls, and gifts. When she knew she was dying, she worried about who was going to love him, who was going to do all the things only a mother can do? I knew I couldn’t fill her role completely, but I vowed I would do the best I could. I won’t lie and pretend it was an easy transition but after nine years, my brother and I have found our way to a good relationship.  As I was getting him ready for the dance Friday evening, I made sure we both carried a piece of our parents’ memory with us, not just in our hearts but tangible talismans from our parents. My brother, who is nicknamed “Cowboy Dave” for his love of everything western, proudly wore our father’s turquoise bolo tie. I wore my mother’s amethyst ring that had been passed down from her mother: small nods to wonderful parents who are gone from this life but live on in our memories and love for one another.

My brother at the beginning of the evening, proudly wearing our dad’s bolo tie and eagerly anticipating the fun ahead!

I wish my parents had lived long enough to experience Night to Shine, which started five years ago as a way to celebrate people with special needs. The Tim Tebow Foundation, with the help of local churches, sponsors this spectacular prom in 655 locations all over the world on the same evening. To make this incredible evening come together for the 100,000 prom attendees, it takes over 200,000 volunteers! In Tulsa the event is organized by The Assembly in Broken Arrow.  The Assembly hosts a capacity crowd of 800 prom attendees, which requires approximately 1,200 volunteers! Registration begins in the fall and is completely free, but a warning–it fills up very quickly!

The world-wide theme for the evening is to celebrate each individual as though they are royalty, Kings and Queens and beloved children of God. After an extremely long and cold wait in line (I feel petty mentioning the only negative, but the wait was a physical hardship for many of the attendees including my brother) prom attendees are paired with a buddy, crowns are placed on their heads, men are given boutonnieres and women corsages and then the exciting red carpet walk amidst cheers and paparazzi style photographers.

Each prom attendee received a crown to wear; my brother’s went on top of his cowboy hat!

After the red-carpet welcome, prom attendees have a multitude of activity choices ranging from a big dance area, karaoke singing, a glam room for the women, shoe shines for the men, photo booth with props, bubble room, glow room, and my brother’s favorite area–food, lots of delicious food supplied by Chick-fil-A. I probably should have given David’s buddy a warning that he should be reigned in a little in the food department, but it’s one evening and food brings him great joy. There were limousine rides, which looked like a lot of fun but we couldn’t handle another long line. There was also a sensory room if attendees needed a break from the noise and crowds. My brother was mostly interested in the food, but I managed to get him on the dance floor for a couple of Michael Jackson songs, and he had smoother moves than I did, but to be fair, that’s not the highest praise. For most of the evening we left my brother with his buddy and retreated to the room provided for family and caregivers, where we were treated to a delicious dinner, massages and door prizes.

My brother and his buddy on the red carpet, enjoying the attention!

I questioned myself as I was writing this blog, what’s the point of writing about an event that’s already passed? The first reason, the practical reason, is to bring awareness to others in the community who might benefit from attending this event next year. The second is to thank the incredibly generous people at the Tim Tebow foundation for initiating this world-wide event and even more importantly, the one thousand plus volunteers from The Assembly in Broken Arrow for bringing the concept into reality! The generous amount of work, manpower and money they invest is impressive and to be applauded! The third reason is to celebrate love the day before Valentine’s Day. Traditionally we think of Valentine’s Day as the day to celebrate romantic love, but why not celebrate all kinds of love and especially this altruistic display of pure, giving love. Reaching out to people that perhaps have never been accepted let alone celebrated before should not be overlooked and its importance cannot be underestimated.  Watching my brother walk the red carpet and stop to wave to the crowd was a precious moment to store away in my memory bank. The sight brought tears to my eyes and a silent message to my mother “Look Mom, he’s happy!  We miss you but life is going well for ‘Cowboy Dave’!”

Each Night to Shine Attendee received a gift bag at the end of the evening!

Categories: Grand Life