By Talbert Toole
Grace Bible Church announced it will host Oxford’s inaugural Night to Shine Prom, an event for people with special needs, on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Oxford Conference Center. The event is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
The church will be one of 500 churches across the U.S. and several other countries simultaneously hosting the event on the Valentine’s Day weekend.
Night to Shine is a worldwide movement to celebrate love—specifically God’s love— for people with special needs, said Kristy Bridgers, member of Grace Bible Church. After the church applied to be the LOU community’s location, Bridgers was selected to lead the charge on organizing the inaugural event, she said.
Bridgers has a personal connection with the event. One of her friends had a child in 2005 born with Down Syndrome and spent the first year of its life in a hospital.
“I really felt committed (to the event) because of that experience,” Bridgers said.
The honored guests of Night to Shine will experience the royal treatment, from arriving in a limo to entering the dance floor on the red carpet, Bridgers said. For their first year, the organizers are capping the attendance to 100 honored guests with plans to grow the event in the future.
Prior to the festivities of the prom, guests will receive a pre-prom experience with hair and makeup makeovers, shoe shines and corsage or boutonniere placements. In addition, each guest will also be crowned prom king or queen during the night.
Dinner will be catered and a special message from Tim Tebow will be shown during the night on the big screen.
Bridgers said the event currently has 20-25 volunteers but is still in need of more, along with decorations and donations for gift bags for the guests.
Shannon Richardson, a member of Grace Bible Church, has taken the lead marketing the prom. Richardson, who has a daughter with Autism, said there has been a huge, positive response from the community regarding the event.
The closest church that has hosted a Night to Shine Prom is New Albany, Mississippi, Richardson said. She is hoping to provide the same experience to Oxford and Lafayette residents and honored guests with a night of fun and celebration.
“We really want them to feel special and be able to come to an event in their town,” Richardson said.
The organization is still in need of volunteers to help make the prom night come to life, Bridgers said. Volunteers between the ages of 14-18 must have a parent or guardian’s permission to volunteer.
Volunteers can register online but must go through a background check along with a volunteer training, which is slated for January.
LOU residents who wish to attend as honored guests must be above the age of 14 and can register through the Oxford Night to Shine website.
As for the church’s involvement, creating spaces for those with special needs is not a foreign concept to Grace Bible. The church currently has a ministry that was created specifically for children with special needs called Emma’s Friends. Emma’s Friends is a buddy system for children with different disabilities which allows those children to attend GraceLand—the church’s Sunday school for children 4-years-old to 6th grade—according to Chris Teague, administrative pastor at Grace Bible.
“Being a host church for Night to Shine fit right into how we feel called to this ministry,” Teague said.