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'Their night to shine'

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SPARKLE AND SHINE: A glass bottle of twinkle lights adorned with lace and ribbon decorates a table at The River Church’s Night to Shine prom Friday night.
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DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY: Special needs prom guests dance with their assigned volunteer buddies at The River Church’s annual Night to Shine prom sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
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GETTING DOWN: Adults and teenagers with special needs enjoy a night of dancing with a live DJ and the companionship of volunteer buddies at the Night to Shine prom sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation at The River Church.

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@wabashplaindealer.com

The Dye family reclined in a room inside the Honeywell Center Friday night, chatting amongst themselves and watching a movie playing on a nearby TV. Mary Dye and her daughter Nikole talked about how nice it was to get their nails done, and Mary’s husband Jeremy Dye mentioned that he was surprised they also got a meal. While being treated to the amenities made them feel special, Friday night was really about their daughter BryAnna.

Friday marked the first Night to Shine event in Wabash. Night to Shine is a prom for people 14 years-old and older with special needs that was created by the Tim Tebow Foundation five years ago.

At the same time on the same night, churches and organizations across the U.S. hold Night to Shine in honor of people with special needs. Guests came into the Honeywell Center Friday night and got their hair and nails done, thanks to the cosmetology students from Heartland Career Center, while others got their shoes shined. When ready, guests were welcomed on a red carpet with claps and cheers from hundreds of volunteers before heading to get some food, take a limo ride or hit the dance floor.

“For some, this is the first time that they’ve really felt this outpouring of love for them,” David Diener of Bachelor Creek Church said.

Diener and other volunteers from Bachelor Creek coordinated the event and said, “it was quite an undertaking,” having started the planning in August, but it was worth it for families like the Dyes.

“We’re so happy for BryAnna that she gets a night to feel special,” her mother said. “She saw her older sister go to prom and she was so excited when she found out about this night.”

Mary said BryAnna is usually a “tomboy” but relished at the opportunity to shop for a dress and have her sister help her get ready.

“Going to prom is normal,” Mary said. “This is just something normal for her. It’s not medical, it’s not educational, it’s just a special night for her to feel good about herself.”

Inside the Honeywell were quiet areas where guests could go to cool down away from the thumping music and group activities, like Mario Kart and karaoke. Todd Schindler, also a member of Bachelor Creek, debuted therapy dog Oakley, an 8-month-old labrador in training. He said the night gave him an opportunity to test Oakley’s skills and bear witness to something truly amazing.

“You can tell by the look on their face coming down the red carpet how special it was,” he said.

For Diener, the night was about more than just a prom in February, but showing “God’s love through action.” He said as a church it doesn’t do any good to keep their love and goodwill inside the walls of the sanctuary, and that it’s a love everyone deserves.

“Seeing these people walk across the red carpet with nothing but smiles on their faces, it’s one of those moments that gave me chills and nearly brought me to tears,” Diener said. “We did this because these people deserve God’s love, everyone does. Often this is a group that’s cast aside, but this night is about them and everything here is for them … It really is their night to shine.”