By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
“Kings” and “queens” with special needs from the Quad Cities and around the world soaked up the limelight in a virtual “Night to Shine” prom on Feb. 12, just before Valentine’s Day. Like so many celebrations, the lavish party of love for persons with special needs moved from in-person to the internet because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a smoothly choreographed 40-minute video, Night to Shine founder Tim Tebow and his wife Demi took the prom goers on a whirlwind tour around the world where faith communities host the special prom night for their beloved guests. The video created the experience of prom goers walking the red carpet, with paparazzi cheering them on. Celebrities including Carrie Underwood, Lady A, Manny Pacquino, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, Chip and Joanna Gaines and Shawn Johnson East and Andrew East delivered video bouquets of affirmation and appreciation for their viewing guests.
Surfer Bethany Hamilton, who survived a 2003 shark attack that resulted in the loss of her left arm, shared a heartfelt message of encouragement to the kings and queens watching. “You are all beautifully and wonderfully made. God loves you,” she began. “I found that when I view myself as God views me, I am able to overcome some of life’s biggest challenges that come my way. I believe you can have that same life, too, a life of overcoming, adopting and being resilient to some of the darkest and hardest moments in life.”
In a message after the event, Tebow said, “Six months ago, we could not say with certainty exactly what this night would look like. But we knew two things for sure. First, we could not allow the opportunity to love those who need it most to simply pass us by.” He noted, “For our friends who have been so significantly impacted by the ongoing pandemic, it was imperative that we stepped up to show them that they are not only not forgotten …they are Royalty! Secondly, with God, all things are possible.”
Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire and Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Davenport once again co-hosted the Quad-Cities’ Night to Shine 2021, centered on God’s love and celebrating people with special needs. More than 400 guests registered and, “from all accounts, everybody had a good time,” said Jennifer Hildebrand, parish nurse at Our Lady of the River and a co-leader of the Quad-Cities’ event with Scott Sievert of Risen Christ.
Hildebrand said she received text messages and saw posts on Facebook from guests who celebrated in front of laptops or widescreen TVs or got together in small, socially distanced venues with friends. Abbey McKenna of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove enjoyed the night out with her buddy from last year and they had matching tie-dyed T-shirts printed. Tim Elskamp, also of St. Ann’s, enjoyed a dinner out with his parents and they also video chatted with his buddy from the last several years who lives in the Chicago area.
The 37 residents in the Memory Care Unit of Senior Star at Elmore Place in Davenport enjoyed a socially distanced prom day that featured karaoke music, photo sessions, dinner and dance and watching the virtual Night to Shine prom together. “Our residents had a blast,” said Haley Flenkner, director of Senior Star’s Memory Care Unit. “It turned out to be a wonderful day for them.”
Every prom goer received a gift bag that contained corsages or boutonnieres, hand-written notes and the most important gift, a crown or tiara.
Volunteers painstakingly prepared the bags to ensure every prom goer had the best experience possible in the midst of a pandemic. Holding the event signaled to the guests “You are important and we want to celebrate you,” Hildebrand said. “This pandemic has pushed us to be creative. Every guest is important and we had to celebrate them and let them know they are loved.”