By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — For one Night to Shine, the maintenance bay garage of the Iowa National Guard armory became a glamorous drive-thru prom venue embellished with sky blue and black balloons, neon lights, streamers, a candelabra and gold stars. Cheerleaders and paparazzi, police officers and military cadets, pageant queens and costumed characters greeted their special guests with enthusiasm that rose to the rafters on Feb. 11.
Night to Shine, described as a memorable prom experience for persons with special needs ages 14 and older, was a hybrid experience this year, featuring a “Shine-Thru Parade” followed by a virtual celebration afterwards with founder Tim Tebow.
Cars, trucks, SUVs and even a mini-bus rolled into the maintenance garage one at a time as an announcer broadcast each king and queen’s name and the volunteer greeters, around 90 of them, cheered for and fussed over each guest. Each one posed from car windows for photographs as volunteers framed them with decorative, oversized picture frames with “King” or “Queen” titles. Altogether, 268 guests registered for the event.
Kim Zupancic describes the moment she and her husband, Gregg, and their 16-year-old daughter, “Jazzie,” arrived at the door, which reminded Kim of a car wash operation. However, when this door opened, love poured in. “We felt God’s love pouring into our vehicle,” Kim said. “How special it was to know that so many people gave up their Friday night to be there and (shower) love on us.”
Volunteers told Jazzie she looked beautiful, complimented her on her dress and told her that God loves her. “It was so personal, she felt like a superstar,” Kim said. “She typically is very scared of anybody in a costume, but I told her, ‘Jazzie, you’re so brave.’” From the safety of her family’s SUV, Jazzie was brave, her mom said. “This is amazing,” Gregg said from the driver’s seat. “It makes me want to cry.”
First-time registration coordinator Emily Pries said the Shine-Thru Parade required “a lot of moving parts to get it all organized,” but the event “really blew away my expectations. The volunteers transformed a maintenance bay garage into a glitzy, glamorous red-carpet event complete with a DJ, paparazzi, photographers, local mascots and celebs. I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it,” added Pries, whose day job is executive secretary for Bishop Thomas Zinkula. “The leadership team has worked together for a number of years, so they made it easy for me to join them!”
Her parents, Bonnie and Randy Beyhl, have been very involved in the local event and always enjoyed being a part of it, which inspired Pries to volunteer. “Every person deserves a ‘Night to Shine.’ This event gives our very special guests an evening to be celebrated, to feel loved, to be the king or queen that they are, and to have fun. The smiles from the guests, and some of the tears of surprise and gratitude, will carry me through to next year’s event.”
Her husband, Jake Pries, also volunteered for the first time, working with the Quad Cities Night to Shine leadership team and the Iowa National Guard to serve as building security. He also assisted with setup and was on hand for the parade.
Randy Beyhl, dressed as St. Nicholas, said one of the guests asked him, “Santa, how are the reindeer doing?” He told the guest that the reindeer were eating in the barn at the North Pole, hungry and still tired after delivering Christmas presents.
Night to Shine coordinator Jennifer Hildebrand of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire described the search for a suitable venue for the Shine-Thru Parade after the Tim Tebow Foundation announced the hybrid event. “We ran into dead ends with the various car dealerships and other suitable buildings with double garage doors at either end of the building, which is what we needed to make this work. Emily Pries contacted the armory since her husband is retired military and secured that venue. Armory personnel were fantastic in supplying everything we needed.”
Our Lady of the River served as a host parish, along with Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Davenport and Wildwood Church in East Moline, Illinois. They welcomed guests from Scott, Muscatine and Clinton counties in Iowa and Rock Island and Henry counties in Illinois.
The fierce wind that evening was a challenge. Each time the doors opened the decorations blew around. Fortunately, the organizers realized the challenge early and solved it creatively. “We discovered kettlebells in the workout room in the armory and used them as weights to secure the posts from blowing over,” Hildebrand said.
“The paparazzi were fantastic and did everything to make the guests feel special. The DJ made sure he announced each guest clearly and our Santa walked up to each car and spoke to the guests as they drove through. Paparazzi handed out glow-in-the-dark beads to everyone and decorated frames were held up to each guest so that their picture could be captured by our two professional photographers through the car window.”
“It was powerful to see both the guests and parents in tears as they took in all the lights, sounds, messages and pure LOVE that emanated from everyone inside that armory,” Hildebrand said. “You could feel the love inside. It was incredible.”