Sharing God’s love with people who have special needs has always been the focus of Night to Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. But how does that happen in a year with a COVID-19 global pandemic that presents even more challenges for people with special needs?

Night to Shine 2021 will take place around the world as a simultaneous virtual event on Friday. Family Christian Center and ProMedica’s Kaitlyn’s Cottage will again be the Defiance hosts for an unforgettable prom night experience centered on God’s love for people with special needs, ages 14 and older.

“This event has quickly turned in to one of the premier events in our area, with people coming from Defiance, Henry, Williams, Fulton, Paulding, Putnam, Lucas and Wood counties to attend as honored guests. Some of our volunteers are traveling from even farther away. Night to Shine is an event that brings the community together. A night of love and inclusion and an experience of a lifetime for many that attended, honored guests and volunteers alike. While our event in 2021 may look a bit different, the virtual celebration will still be enormous! Our goal is to make this night one to remember. A true Night to Shine,” said Kelly Tong, Kaitlyn’s Cottage program manager.

Joining Tong and Eli Tracy, pastor at Family Christian Center, on the steering team are Cris Shock, Amanda Tracy, Jessica Debarba-Poineau and Stephon Puente. Committee members have been faced with the responsibility to do the right thing in planning an event during a pandemic year. That would include activities that would meet the comfort levels and personal beliefs of all of the participants-honored guests, the buddies they are paired up with, and the many other volunteers.

The challenging year has turned out to be a year of opportunity to do new things, while keeping everyone safe and comfortable. For instance, honored guests were invited to visit the Christmas Cruise Thru, a drive-through light display in Hicksville.

A cutout of Tim Tebow was placed at various locations around Defiance for #tebowtuesday each week during December and January. A photo was taken and placed on Facebook. The first honored guest to correctly identify the location won a prize.

A sign blitz was held in January. Volunteers placed the turquoise yard signs at the homes of each participating honored guest.

One evening was devoted to a Facebook Live prayer time led by Tracy for requests of honored guests, volunteers, and caregivers.

Volunteers have assembled swag bags to be delivered to the honored guests ahead of Friday’s event. Items in the special Night to Shine gift bag include a crown or tiara, a silk corsage or boutonniere keepsake, fun party supplies, candy, and Night to Shine logo items such as a T-shirt, ball cap, and even a mask lanyard.

The virtual event still will include music, special guests, dancing, singing, animations, a crowning ceremony led by Tim Tebow where each honored guest will be crowned king or queen of the prom. Honored guests and volunteers will receive a link to access approximately 40 minutes of festivities. The link for the night’s festivities will be active for a few days following the event which allows some flexibility in viewing.

In a non-COVID year, the honored guest and buddy attend the prom together to enjoy all of the activities offered. While each honored guest was again paired up with a buddy this year, the difference has been the level of contact. It has varied greatly by health criteria, personal preferences and comfort level regarding COVID. Creative buddies have made sure that the honored guests feel special whether by letters, phone calls, video chats and window visits or by actual face to face visits.

The honored guest-buddy experience on Friday night will vary also. The virtual experience will offer all the opportunity for participation in an adaptive dance, choreographed for the kings and queens of Night to Shine. An instruction video has been made available for practice ahead of time.

Both Tong and Tracy are pleased that the virtual event will be able to reach those honored guests who have not been able to participate at the in-person proms of previous years.

Tong added, “We know that there are guests who have hesitated to come to Night to Shine due to concerns about the size of the event and overstimulation. However, with a virtual event, guests with these concerns will have the ability to take in the event at their own pace. It is our goal that more honored guests than ever before are able to participate, and we look forward to seeing our community come together, once again, to honor these amazing individuals.”

“It (Night to Shine) may look different, but it will still be fabulous.”

Tong also praised volunteers as really stepping up in the unusual circumstances. Volunteer roles include serving as buddies, assembling swag bags, distributing honored guest yard signs, and tech support to help trouble shoot last minute technical concerns of honored guests or families/support staff. A Zoom afterparty for volunteers is planned for Friday night.

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. Night to Shine 2020 had over 215,000 volunteers committed to crowning more than 110,000 kings and queens around the world.

The event can be followed on Facebook at Night to Shine, Defiance, Ohio. Information on the worldwide movement of Night to Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, is available at www.timtebowfoundation.org/index.php/night-to-shine/

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