As honored guests arrived at the Night To Shine Prom on February 10, they were greeted by hundreds of cheering volunteers, making them feel like kings and queens as they walked down the red carpet.
Since 2015, Seacoast has partnered with the Tim Tebow Foundation to provide an unforgettable prom night experience for guests with exceptional needs. The night includes food, dancing, limo rides, karaoke, crowns, hairstyling, makeup, and shoe-shining to top off the evening’s look, all centered on connecting people through God’s love.
On the same night, the Luke 14 Celebration was held for children under 16. Families enjoyed dancing with “Disney” princesses, playing games, and meeting other families.
On the Night To Shine red carpet, volunteers Jennifer Gilmer and her son Andrew awaited the honored guests. As 17-year-old Winston and his mom passed through the cheering crowd and gravitated toward Andrew, a teen who looked about the same age as her son, Andrew and Jennifer stepped forward to become Winston’s “buddies” for the evening. They escorted him to all of the activities.
While waiting for a limo ride, Winston ran into students with familiar faces from his high school who were serving with Custom Student Ministry. The teens greeted Winston with high-fives and treated him as a friend.
At first, John Gilmer was unsure about his role as a buddy to Austin, a man with autism, who is non-verbal. John worried he wouldn’t know how to communicate with Austin, or if Austin would even enjoy any of the activities. But, when Austin’s mom and sister requested a table near the dance floor, John discovered that Austin loved to dance.
Watching how a volunteer from Charleston Heart, an inclusive arts community, interacted with the guests, John soon learned how to use clapping as a way to show Austin the beat of the music, so he could dance to it. With a beaming smile, Austin spent three hours swaying to the music. “It was pure joy,” John said. “I learned a lot.”
At the end of the night, the Gilmer family said goodbye to their guests. Winston’s mother had tears in her eyes, as she thanked Jennifer and Andrew for giving her time to relax and enjoy a conversation with a friend, trusting that—for the first time in Winston’s life—she could leave her son with someone she didn’t know. She and Jennifer exchanged phone numbers, so they could keep in touch.
“This is my favorite night of the year because of the connections made throughout the night,” Won by One Coordinator, Kristie Hogeboom, said. “Being a parent to a child with exceptional needs can be very isolating and watching families, guests, and buddies form relationships that last is so exciting.”
- Every Sunday, students with exceptional needs learn about Jesus, and interact with friends, allowing parents time to enjoy the Worship Service. For more information about serving with the Won by One ministry, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- This summer, children and students will be attending Kids Camp and Summer Camp. Your willingness to serve an individual with special needs gives them an opportunity to attend. For more information, contact email@example.com.
- Several opportunities are available to serve adults with exceptional needs at Healing Farms.