Last weekend, guys and gals walked the red carpet while paparazzi flashbulbs popped. It wasn’t the Academy Awards, but it was certainly a night to shine at the Ocean View Church of Christ.
Night to Shine is a program that is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, to provide an “unforgettable prom-night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older.”
“The church always talks about the sanctity of life, which simply means we value all life,” said the Rev. Gregg Wilgus of the Ocean View Church of Christ. “More times than not [those with special needs] are left out. It’s just meant to show those with special needs that they are loved and cared for as well.
“The truth of it is, it’s for anyone who is mentally or physically handicapped. We have 14-year-old registered, and we have a 60-year-old registered. Most of them are in their late 20s and early 30s.”
The worldwide event was held on Feb. 10 at 375 churches around the world, hosting 75,000 honored guests through the support of 150,000 volunteers.
“Tim Tebow feels, like I’m sure all Christians do, that this is the sort of thing the churches should be doing. They should be meeting the needs, specially, of those who cannot do for themselves,” Wilgus said.
The event was first brought to Wilgus’ attention by a member of the congregation whose grandson has special needs.
“I took it to the leadership, and they were all for it,” he said. “It’s really an excellent program, and I’m so excited to have found out about it.”
That evening, attendees were paired up with buddies. After completing registration, they were whisked away to one of two limousines that were donated by Atlantic Transportation Services.
“We only have to pay for the drivers. That’s a big benefit,” said Wilgus. “They’ll get in the limo and go right around the church parking lot, and when they come to our back door, they step out onto the red carpet.”
Waiting for them to arrive was a crowd of cheering fans, as well as paparazzi. The event was photographed by local professional photographer Sam Ellis, along with two other photographers and a videographer.
Once inside the church, the boys were able to enjoy a shoeshine, while the girls were able to enjoy beauty prep by two beauticians and four volunteers. Then, each had a professional portrait taken by Ellis, which was given to them in a picture frame to take home at the end of the evening.
In the gymnasium, each was able to pick out a corsage or boutonniere created by volunteers from bulk flowers. Half the room was set up with round tables for a sit-down dinner, while the other was primed for a night of dancing. Dinner was prepared by a former restaurateur and member of the congregation, alongside a handful of volunteers. Dessert was provided by a Rehoboth restauranteur who had heard about the event and wanted to help out.
Along with prom activities in the gym, there was also a game room and a sensory room, in case anyone needed a break from the fun. There was also a respite room where the parents of attendees could wait, instead of driving back and forth from the event. Millers Creek, Perfect Furnishings and Bethany Resort Furnishings provided items to the event at no cost.
“A lot of places wanted to contribute.”
Wilgus said the foundation provided the church with $1,800 worth of gifts that were to be used for the evening, which included the picture frames given to the attendees.
“The budget for this evening is just over $9,000,” said Wilgus. “The Tim Tebow Foundation provided a grant, so we have a $4,700 grant that comes from them to pay for this, and we make up the difference.
“I know the checks have been coming in from all over the place. My wife had her hair done, and the woman who did her hair contributed $250.”
He also noted that seemingly everyone who heard about the event wanted to get involved, to the point where the church had to cut off volunteers.
“I think that speaks volumes,” said Wilgus. “People hearing about this just from word-of-mouth wanted to be involved in it… This wasn’t just our church — we had a lot of people in the community involved.”
The Ocean View Police Department had a uniformed officer on site that evening, and the Millville Volunteer Fire Company had two uniformed EMTs attend as well. A number of nurses also attended, to ensure the health and safety of all those attending.
Wilgus said they are already talking about next year’s Night to Shine and hope to make it bigger and better, while including even more of the community.
Although it was a big event to put on, Wilgus said it exemplified what the church should be doing.
“When it comes right down to it, I think it’s putting your money where your mouth is. If the church — I’m speaking about the church universal, worldwide — believes that all life has value regardless of the circumstances in their life, then we should be doing something that says we feel that way.
“We do realize the value of each life, and it feels appropriate that God’s love that was freely given to everyone should not be restricted from those who are different than we are. This is what we should be doing as we are trying to pattern our lives after Jesus Christ and concern for those that no one else is.”
For more information about Night to Shine, visit www.timtebowfoundation.org/index.php/night-to-shine. The Ocean View Church of Christ is located at 54 West Avenue in Ocean View and can be reached by calling (302) 539-7468.