For those who attend as guests, the Tim Tebow Night to Shine is an unforgettable evening filled with glamour, glitz and excitement. It is truly a night to shine, to celebrate and bask in the glow of their very own prom night, complete with fancy gowns, corsages and shiny shoes, limousines, food, dancing and a walk down a red carpet past throngs of cheering fans and paparazzi.
Every guest is crowned Prom King or Prom Queen, and every guest goes home with a Tim Tebow Foundation gift bag filled with keepsakes commemorating the event.
“This (2018) will be our third year hosting Night to Shine,” said Event Director Kim Burkhart. Burkhart plans and organizes the event, held at WestGate Academy Conferencing Center in Odon, along with a group of dedicated volunteers on behalf of Antioch Christian Church in Washington.
“I heard about it after the first one was held in 2015,” Burkhart said. “I knew right away this was something I wanted to bring to our area.” Burkhart proposed the idea to Antioch pastor Keith Meece, who filled out the necessary paperwork to get his church signed up as a sponsoring church.
On Feb. 9, 2018, Burkhart and her crew will join 539 other churches worldwide as they host Night to Shine for 90,000 special-needs guests, each one with his or her own “buddy”, a volunteer previously matched with the guest. Buddies stay with their assigned guest throughout the evening, attending to their every need. WestGate Academy is located at 13598 East WestGate Drive in Odon, and doors open at 4:30 p.m.
According to the Tim Tebow Foundation, “Night to Shine celebrates the uniqueness of every individual guest by providing an unforgettable night where they are welcomed, valued and loved, centered on God’s love.”
Night to Shine was launched by Tebow in 2015, the five-year anniversary of the Tim Tebow Foundation.
“My executive director came up to me, and he told me about a church that was putting on a prom for special-needs guests,” Tebow said. “And he said, ‘how would you feel about doing that?’. And I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ He said, ‘Well, where should we do it?’, and I said ‘Let’s do it everywhere’.” Currently in its fourth year, the foundation is doing just that.
That year, the event was held on Valentine’s Day at 44 locations in 26 states, Uganda and Kenya. 15,000 volunteers accompanied 7,000 special needs guests on a most memorable evening for everyone involved.
In 2016 numbers rose 450 percent, with Night to Shine held in 48 states and eight countries with the assistance of 70,000 volunteers helping 32,000 guests.
Last year, on Feb. 10, 2017, the event took place simultaneously in all 50 states and in 11 countries around the world, with 150,000 volunteers and 75,000 guests.
This year the event continues to grow, with 175,000 volunteers supporting 90,000 special-needs guests in all 50 states and 16 countries.
“We are expecting about 200 guests this year,” Burkhart said. Guests must be at least 14 years of age or older to attend.
For Burkhart, Night to Shine activities start well in advance of the night of the event. In early January, Antioch Church hosts a special “Formal Wear Shop” in the church atrium for guests planning to attend Night to Shine. Donated formal wear items for men and women are available in a variety of sizes, free of charge for every king and queen.
Jolene McAtee uses decorations provided by the Tim Tebow Foundation to transform the main room at WestGate Academy into every king and queen’s vision of a magic wonderland.
“Jolene is a lady with a magic touch,” Burkhart said. “She is simply amazing at what she does, everything is always beautiful and elegant.”
An on-site hair and beauty salon will open at 2 p.m. at WestGate, with make-up expertly applied and hair professionally styled by volunteers from The Taylor’ed look in Washington and Tara’s in Plainville.
“Once our kings and queens arrive for the evening, they will be escorted in by some of our local military men and women, as well as Indiana University football players,” Burkhart said. “Once inside they will meet up with their Buddy, who will escort them to receive their crown or tiara, flowers and their own disposable camera so they can capture the night through their own eyes. Then they have their ‘prom pictures’ taken, have their name announced and walk down the red carpet with their Buddy with a big crowd of paparazzi cheering and taking pictures as they go.”
The red-carpet walk brings out smiles, laughter and sometimes a little sass on the part of the guests. Last year, more than one Prom King strutted and posed as he made the walk, flashbulbs furiously snapping all the while.
Guests then take their reserved seats at tables beautifully decorated, to enjoy a meal made especially for the needs of each diner.
After the meal, the games begin in several areas of WestGate Academy, and the dancing takes over while a row of immaculate limousines sits waiting, each guest treated to a ride inside with their friends.
“When the night is over,” said Burkhart, “the kings and queens get their gift bags and we also provide a commemorative t-shirt and their prom picture to each guest.”
Burkhart, when asked to choose her favorite thing about hosting Night to Shine, found the task impossible.
“That’s a hard question,” she said. “Oh, it has to be the dancing. Or maybe it’s the smiles. Or the laughter, it’s just too hard to choose!
Last year our local Night to Shine had the oldest attendee, I believe, at 96 years young. It was his first-ever prom and he loved it. He’s planning to attend this year as well.”
Finding enough volunteers for the event can be daunting, Burkhart said. With just over a week to go, her team still seeks around 60 volunteers. Signing up is easy, and those with an interest need only visit www.ttfnighttoshineacc.com/ to register. All volunteers must be at least 16 years of age by Feb. 9, complete a volunteer registration and provide information for a background check.
“It takes about 15 to 30 minutes to complete,” said Burkhart. “Most people, once they have experienced the joy of the night, are the first ones to sign up to volunteer the next year. When we are running short on volunteers, we reach out to area churches, newspapers, radio, high school and college groups, Facebook and friend-to-friend invites. My volunteers are motivated to bring joy, laughter and smiles to so many deserving kings and queens who face challenges every day that many of us take for granted.”
On the Tim Tebow Foundation website, many videos can be viewed depicting Night to Shine festivities. In one, the background music is “Kings and Queens” by Christian rock group Audio Adrenaline.
Lyrics from the chorus include; “Boys become kings, girls will be queens, wrapped in your majesty.”
Burkhart said Night to Shine offers all of its guests, special needs and otherwise, a peek into paradise.
“I have to admit, each year when I look around at all the glowing and smiling faces, hear the laughter and see everyone dancing like no one is watching, I tear up,” Burkhart said. “To see everyone together, having fun, no judgment, no differences, just people loving people, the way God intends it to be, it’s a glimpse of what Heaven must look like. It is truly a beautiful sight.”
For more information on Night to Shine and the Tim Tebow Foundation, visit www.timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine. For more information on Night to Shine and Antioch Christian Church, visit www.ttfnighttoshineacc.com/, email the church at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 812-254-2651.