“Night to Shine”: Blessings Multiplied
“Night to Shine”: Blessings Multiplied
by Dale Reeves
This past Friday night Christ’s Church hosted our sixth annual “Night to Shine” prom for teens and adults with special needs. We were one of 721 churches this year to participate in the event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. This year we had 417 special kings and queens in our building, with over 700 volunteers, and more than 150 parents enjoyed our VIP parent room. Why do we do this every year? For starters, Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:12, 13, ESV). I believe “Night to Shine” is the kind of party Jesus would throw.
Treated Like Royalty
On Friday I had the opportunity to ask a few parents what their sons and daughters (some of them are teens, and some are older adults) like about this event. Here’s what I heard:
“My son can’t get enough of Chick-fil-A!”
“My daughter’s favorite thing is social events, and she looks forward to this every year.”
“My son loves to dance, and he doesn’t leave the dance floor the whole evening. I feel sorry for his ‘buddy’ for the night!”
“Some of the guests know each other. They have cliques like everyone else, and they love coming every year to see their buddies here.”
“This is the fourth year we have attended, and I have both a son and a daughter here tonight. They love getting dressed up; it makes them feel very special!”
“Last year after my daughter was crowned Queen of the prom, she went around the house wearing her crown for the next two weeks, yelling, ‘I am the Queen!’—it drove her other siblings crazy!”
One parent told me about a buddy who asks her son to prom in creative ways every year. This year at Christmas she dressed up in the pink bunny suit from The Christmas Story and asked him to the prom for the third year in a row. “It means so much to him!” the mom explained.
Treated Like Family
I asked a few questions to two of our volunteers who are heavily invested in our special needs ministry at the church, Jill Buffenbarger and Jenny Nunley. Jill grew up in a small town and went to nursing school at a local hospital. In the mid-’80s she began working weekends at a State Institution for Developmental Disabilities. She says, “Most of the residents were considered wards of the state, with custody being turned over to the state with little family involvement. We became their family. I was able to take some of the residents to church, sporting events, and home with me for the holidays. I fell in love with these people.” Jill and her husband Dave have been members of Christ’s Church since 2002. She explains, “We have served in a number of ministries here, and about twelve years ago when a new ministry was advertised for children with special needs, I jumped in immediately. I knew that the statistics were very high for divorce in families that had children with special needs, and I wanted to help those parents be able to worship together at church and have time to themselves. The past eight years I have been working for Warren County, helping developmental and medically fragile children and adults.”
Jenny Nunley and her husband Aaron are both PK’s (pastor’s kids). Due to a variety of circumstances, Jenny and her husband Aaron discovered Christ’s Church, and she was excited to find out that there was a special needs ministry here. During her college years Jenny was in charge of the community service requirements for the junior class. Not only did she volunteer, she also got to share her passion for helping others with many different types of people. Jenny says, “I placed students in school programs, animal shelters, and anywhere else that would take college students. The more I volunteered with children, the more I fell in love with those kids that needed a little extra love and a little extra time. To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world! That perspective has driven my passion for helping those that others might dismiss. I see the value that God placed on them and feel so privileged that I get to work with them. As an intervention specialist I always pray that God will show me how to love them like he does.”
Tears of Joy, Tears of Laughter
Jill and Jenny love what happens at “Night to Shine” every year, both the humorous and the touching moments. Jill shares, “This past Friday night I took a photo of a couple with Down Syndrome. The girl looked at the picture and said, ‘That picture will NOT do, I have a double chin.’ Take it over!” You never know what might happen when you work with these unique and special creations of God. Jill continues, “I love that we honor and cherish these folks for a whole night. I love seeing so many friends celebrate together under one roof. I see so many parents with tears of joy and happiness because someone else is loving on their kids.”
Jenny explains, “I love ‘Night to Shine’ because I have seen firsthand how this event gets unchurched people to come into our church building, both guests and their parents, as well as the many volunteers it takes to make this happen. I love seeing the tears of joy on parents’ faces when they see their beloved children escorted down the red carpet. Many caregivers have told me how their clients talk and talk about the prom all year in anticipation. And every year I hear stories of volunteers who come to this event hoping to do a ‘good deed’—and they end up getting blessed even more in return. I’ve seen volunteers who were very anxious about serving as a buddy, and by the end of the night, they are asking if they can go visit their new friend in the group home or have their buddy come to their house for the holidays. It is so cool to see God at work in this way!”
Blessings from Some Special People
Jill beams with joy as she says, “I love working with this people. You never have a bad day. A hug, smile, or wave is always available. In my work I will see many of the participants over the next year in schools and they will ask, ‘When is “Night to Shine” happening again? Remember when I saw you there?’ I remember!”
Jenny shares her passion, “I enjoy their zest for life, their quirks, and their uniqueness. There are many amazing qualities hidden below the surface if you take the time to look! What might be considered a deficit in one area of their lives typically allows for strength in another area. Children with special needs are not to be feared, but revered!”
One of Jenny’s favorite things that happened this year involves a mom whom she met at one of the training nights prior to “Night to Shine.” The mom mentioned that her 18-year-old daughter had prayed about whether or not to donate some of her prom dresses for the event. She felt like God was telling her to do it, and she ended up donating a number of her dresses. Then on Friday night, the mom saw one of her daughter’s dresses on a young lady and it brought tears to her eyes. She went up to the girl and told her how beautiful she looked, like Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” The young lady was all smiles and because the yellow dress was a little long, her buddy was helping to carry the back of the dress. The girl said to the mom, “Look! I’m a princess! I have people helping to carry my princess dress!” The mom took a picture of the girl and sent it to her daughter who is away at college. After she received the picture, her daughter called her mom, crying happy tears. And that’s how blessings are multiplied through the ministry of “Night to Shine.” And, that’s why Christ’s Church throws this Jesus’ party every February.