Cortney Kiser (far left) and Jessica Minner (far right) with their Night to Shine prom dates. The prom featured Living Statues (center) as a way of providing entertainment for the event. (photo provided by Cortney Kiser)

The dresses, the venue and the fun date makes prom a night of excitement and fun for most students. For the special needs community it can be hard to find prom as special as everyone else.

The Tim Tebow Foundation started Night To Shine for that exact reason.

The prom gives the special needs kids the chance to have a normal prom experience without the pressure normal high school prom brings. Each year, Lima First Church in Lima, Ohio holds Night To Shine in its worship center. The event, held Feb. 5, includes a full dinner, a limo ride to the church, a red carpet and a crown, or tiara, for every attendee.

According to Dr. Keith Durkin, a professor of sociology at Ohio Northern University and the advisor for the university chapter of Delta Sigma Phi, around 160 young people with special needs attended this year’s prom.

Dr. Durkin said, “ [Night to Shine] gives the community a chance to come together and celebrate young people with special needs. It allows the community to show these young people they are loved by both God and the community”

Community events like this not only help out the special needs community but also teach college students about kids with special needs.

Abby Jaspers, a junior nursing major at Ohio Northern University, attended Night to Shine.

She said, “Getting to experience something like this is unforgettable. I was able to interact with so many kids in such fun ways.”

Jaspers was able to be a date for multiple people at the prom.

The college students are able to bring energy and enthusiasm to the event each year. This combination creates an unforgettable experience for the participants that attend the prom.

Each year more and more college students from the surrounding area are attending and volunteering. This year, students from Ohio Northern University and Rhodes State College volunteered as dates for Night to Shine. So many students volunteered that the special needs attendees were able to have multiple dates.

“I can’t wait to go back next year,” Jaspers said. “Getting to have so much fun while also making a night special for others is unforgettable.”

Dr. Durkin explained that parents say Night to Shine is the best night of their sons or daughters’ lives.

“My favorite [memory] is probably a story a group of ONU students told me,” Dr. Durkin said. “They were in a restaurant eating and were approached by the mother of one of the participants who just wanted to thank them for helping their son have the best night of his life.”

Each year the special needs community gets a night to remember as do the students volunteers. Students are shown the importance of community and volunteer work in a fun and exciting way.

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