Lined up in sequined gowns and sharp tuxedos, 250 attendees made their grand entrance down the red carpet.
Night to Shine, hosted by the Tim Tebow Foundation, is a special needs prom hosted by 720 different churches all over the world, Feb. 7. Rancho Community Church in Temecula had nearly 1,000 people come together for the event.
Before attendees could make their way down the red carpet, they were escorted by volunteers, or “buddies,” for the night to pick up their corsages and to get their hair and makeup done. Nearly 550 volunteers worked the event, with 300 parents and caregivers in attendance.
Making their way into the hair and makeup room, guests were met with all different types of stations: while hair and makeup services were provided by students from Paul Mitchell Schools, the middle of the room was designated as a shoeshine service and several photo booths were placed throughout.
Terri Brock, mother of Alyssa Brock, watched as her daughter’s hair was braided and she had makeup put on for the first time.
“She’s 23 and never been to a dance,” Terri Brock said. “She’s never been to a prom or anything, never even wore makeup, so that’s why she’s so skittish with the makeup. It’s all very new.”
The Brock family was from south Florida, but they moved to Temecula and heard of the event through a Facebook post.
“I decided, why not, this would be a good experience for her,” she said.
Since they were new to the area, she said hoped this event would help her to get to know the people in the community as well.
“The community has been really nice,” Brock said. “My daughter is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She’s microcephalic, intellectually delayed and she has neuropraxia, so she’s primarily non-verbal, understands everything you tell her but can only get a few words across.”
“The special needs community has been very inviting, which I’ve just been so thankful for,” Brock said.
Amid the opening festivities, attendees were able to take horse carriage rides and take pictures with Disney princesses, Cinderella, Belle, Anna and Elsa.
The carriage rides, provided by the Temecula Carriage Company, came out several weeks before the event and measured and built a ramp for wheelchairs to go on the trolley.
Elsa, one of the Disney princesses from Castle of Dreams Princess Parties, was also fluent in ASL and signed to attendees throughout the evening.
Several volunteers from University of California Riverside’s women’s soccer team waited to be paired up with a buddy for the night.
“My little sister has autism, and so I’m really familiar with children that have disabilities,” volunteer Katie Wong said. “I’m just really passionate about helping. I think this is a great night to help and put yourself out there.”
For Jessica Tamayo and twins Paige and Alexa Smith, it was their first time at the event.
“There are events like this back home,” Tamayo said. “I’ve never participated but I’ve always wanted to, and I heard about this one and it got me really excited to be a part of it.”
For Paige Smith, it was her way to give back to the community and to get involved outside of soccer.
“It’s just amazing,” Alexa Smith said. “We’re trying to do community service. It helps with team bonding and gives back to the community. It’s a great opportunity to take advantage of as a team, and it helps them.”
Volunteer Mike Visser came after hearing buzz about it from last year.
“I’ve coached Special Olympics for three years now,” he said. “My company here in town works with special needs, and it sounded super exciting. I saw the pictures last year, and I thought I would hop into it and give it a whirl.”
After hair and makeup, attendees lined up to make their debut. People lined the carpet and huddled at the end, ready to cheer loudly or to cheer with quiet, waving hands to those who needed it quiet as they watched attendees walk side-by-side with their buddy or caregiver. The smiles were endless with many people grinning from ear to ear.
Two of the Los Angeles Chargers’ cheerleaders were there, cheering on the sidelines, as well as wide receiver Geremy Davis and tight end Hunter Henry.
For Davis and Henry, it was their first time attending a Night to Shine event.
“I was excited to come,” Henry said. “I’ve always watched Tim Tebow, seen him from afar and kind of followed it probably from the last year or two, so the opportunity to kind of get involved and see it and to see the joy on the kids’ faces and all the people that are involved too, it was definitely a pretty cool reaction, just to see everybody that was helping out.”
“This is my first (NTS event), and it’s not going to be my last,” Henry said.
For Davis, he said he’s done a lot of serving at church but nothing to this extent.
“It made me happy just to see their reactions, that they’re happy, so the fact that they get this opportunity to live out prom and stuff, it’s just awesome,” Davis said. “I never heard about this event before but I’m happy I get to live it out.”
Once the dance began and everyone had made their way inside, parents were escorted to a separate room to enjoy catered dinner from Baja Style Tacos and a night of trivia and bingo to win prizes.
Arizona mother Misty Gibb came with her husband and two special needs children, Cody and Natalie Gibb, and enjoyed dinner with other parents and caregivers. They arrived the day before for the event.
Gibb said she was overwhelmed at the number of attendees.
“We went to one (NTS event) in Arizona, Cody went twice, so this is his third time and this is Natalie’s first time, and we wanted to make it special, so we wanted to come over here and be here at Rancho with our Rancho family,” Gibb said.
Having two children with special needs has had its challenges for their family.
“It puts a lot of challenges on a marriage, as an individual and as a mom,” Gibb said. “Being able to take care of them and their needs on a day-to-day basis, worrying about what needs to be done, what they should get, what kind of services, getting them in the right schools and having friends and even me having friends, because it’s hard to meet people when you have two special needs kids.”
Gibb was so happy to see the reactions on her children’s faces when they arrived.
“I wanted to cry,” she said. “I was so emotional, even my husband was emotional about it, just seeing how happy they are. It’s nice to be included in this, it makes us feel really good.”
At the end of the night, every one of the attendees was crowned king or queen.
Sande Askins, director of the Night to Shine event at Rancho Community Church, had a team of people with her every step of the way.
“I can’t imagine not having this role, just bringing together volunteers that have a joy of serving a community that doesn’t always get served,” she said.
Terri Brock said she wouldn’t change anything about her daughter, Alyssa.
“We have our ups and downs. We have our great moments; we have our struggles. We have our very rock-bottom moments,” Brock said. “It’s a struggle, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. She’s definitely a blessing. She is what’s kept our family together as far as being there for one another.
“We take things for granted so much, and having somebody like her you learn to enjoy the little things in life, no matter how little they are. And you take each moment, and you embrace it,” Brock said.
Lexington Howe can be reached by email at email@example.com.