Special night for special needs students

Cary Ashby • Jan 30, 2019 at 4:24 PM

DeAnn McKillips didn’t think her application for First United Methodist Church to host the international Night to Shine would be accepted.

McKillips, the church director of Christian education, was pleased when she received the good news via email.

“I’m just blessed with all the goodness God has blessed us with,” she said.

First United Methodist will host Night to Shine from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 8. The prom-night experience, centered on God’s love, is for people with special needs ages 14 to 21 and hosted by local churches in all 50 states and across the globe on the same night.

“We starting to gather volunteers,” McKillips said. 

The church also is looking for “honored guests.” To register, call 419-668-1938.

“We will make sure they get a registration,” McKillips said.

First United Methodist plans on using many parts of its building for Night to Shine. McKillips said there will be a pre-prom, where the volunteers will “doll up” the guests and “pamper them.” After that will be a police escort around the block in a limousine. 

Every Night to Shine guest enters the complimentary event on a red carpet complete with a warm welcome from a friendly crowd and paparazzi. McKillips has requested students from Norwalk and St. Paul high schools act as members of the paparazzi and take photos.

In the church rotunda, the guests will receive flowers and participate in various activities, such as karaoke and a photo booth. Each participant will get a framed photo and gift bag. There will be a grand march into the sanctuary, where the guests will be able to see themselves on the big screen at the front of the altar.

“Dave Wallace is going to be our own version of Ryan Secrest,” McKillips said.

Dinner will be in the fellowship hall and the dance itself will be in the rotunda. During the night will be a live feed from Tim Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback.

“He tries to time it so everyone is crowned at the same time,” McKillips said.

As sponsor of Night to Shine, the Tim Tebow Foundation will provide each host church with the official 2019 planning manual and prom kit, complete with decorations and gifts for the guests and personalized guidance and support from a foundation staff member. The foundation also has committed millions of dollars in financial support to hundreds of churches needing assistance in hosting the event.

“I am blown away by how we are seeing God use the church to step into this space as an advocate for people with special needs. It’s not about my foundation or the churches themselves, but about communities coming together to love and celebrate people with differences. Every town, every village, every state, every country needs a Night to Shine for their special needs community — a chance to be a part of something significant and life-changing … and to be blessed in the process,” said Tebow, founder of the Tim Tebow Foundation.

When McKillips informed the church it had been selected to host Night to Shine in Norwalk, she and co-chairwoman Debi Helton said they were pleasantly surprised by how many parishioners showed interest in helping and/or volunteering.

“People were standing in a line. … They said, ‘I’ll do whatever I can do.’ Everybody wanted to be involved,” Helton said.

McKillips said she hopes the prom experience “will open the doors to people who don’t have a church.” Helton added that she wants the guests to know they are welcomed at First United Methodist — and not just for Night to Shine.

“We are very grateful and thankful that we can do this,” McKillips said. 

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