Editor’s Note: On Friday, February 7, five BRN churches (in each of our regions) hosted Night to Shine, an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. Each of the stories from Calvary Church in Boalsburg, Pa.; Catalyst Church Altoona; Riverbend Community Church in Allentown, Pa.; Ridgeline Community Church in Telford, Pa., and The Church of The Good Shepherd- Cherry Hill, N.J., are featured in a series of articles.

BOALSBURG, Pa.–Throughout the night, Doyin Olorunnisola twirled and twirled on the blue and white balloon-surrounded dance floor, the light pink tulle of her dress billowing all about her as her face reflected the shining lights timed to the celebratory music.

Dorin Olorunnisola
Doyin Olorunnisola pauses in between dances at the Night to Shine prom at Calvary Church, Harvest Fields, in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, on February 7, 2020. Facebook photo.

The dance floor was filled with bubbly laughter from people of all ethnicities and ages and who all had one thing in common: they either were from the special needs community or they were volunteers who loved this community and wanted to honor them on this very special night.

And on the outside of the dance floor was Doyin’s beaming mother, Moradeyo, who shined as she watched her beautifully adorned and overjoyed Doyin simply being a teenager who loved to dance.

Moradeyo soaked in the scene, pleased to volunteer at such a happy event that gave her daughter space, but also gave her a chance to keep her eye on her without hovering. In fact, on this night, she could relax because Doyin, who is on the autism spectrum, had a special “Buddy” to escort her through all the night’s festivities.

Doyin was one of around 160 honored guests to attend the Central Pennsylvania Night to Shine, held at Calvary Church, Harvest Fields, in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, on February 7.

Night to Shine, an unforgettable prom night experience centered on God’s love, for people with special needs, ages 14 and older, is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, which hosted more than 720 events across the United States and the world.

This year, five churches affiliated with the Baptist Resource Network hosted this prom, which was organized by Tebow starting six years ago.

Lisa Lesher, who coordinated Calvary’s event, says she felt drawn to the ministry after participating in a Tim Tebow Bible study. She approached her pastor, Dan Nold, who immediately urged her to lead the effort.

Lesher also was inspired by her beloved nephew, who 30 years ago was diagnosed with autism. Despite knowing how to swim, he tragically drowned the year before Calvary’s first Night to Shine.

“It was just something that…,” she recalled tearfully. “He was my boy!”

Now, in its third year, the ministry has grown beyond her expectations. She was thrilled to learn that Catalyst Church in nearby Altoona would also host that evening because as she put it, “I am honestly not even sure if we are even touching the community that we need to be touching with this.”

Similarly, Mike and April Blackie, who minister at Catalyst, were blown away after hosting the three-hour Blair County Night to Shine. It was their first year, and they had nearly 98 honored guests and 130 volunteers—all with minimal advertising!

With a smaller venue, they had to be creative with their efforts, which included running a shuttle bus service so the guests didn’t have to squeeze into the church’s small parking lot.

Miss Greater Juniata Valley
Miss Greater Juniata Valley dances with an honored guest at the Blair County Night to Shine. Photo by Shannon Baker

Their volunteers included several police officers from where Mike used to serve before he became a pastor as well as several beauty pageant winners, Miss Teen Pennsylvania International, Miss Teen Greater Juniata Valley, and Miss Teen Southwest Pennsylvania. Adorned in their pageant crowns, these ladies were on hand for the night’s capstone event, the crowning of each honored guest as prom king or queen.

Also on hand were Stormtroopers, straight from Lucasfilm’s 501st Legion, founded to unite Star Wars costumers with volunteer charity work, as well as Captain America, Prince Charming, and three different Disney princesses, among other special characters. It made for a very festive atmosphere!

“Ah! God has been so cool … as He always is,” shared April, pointing to local businesses (and even businesses further away) who have volunteered their services to make the night spectacular. A limo driver from over an hour away spent the evening shuttling honored guests through the picturesque streets surrounded by snow.

Over in New Jersey, Pastor Darius Nable and The Church of the Good Shepherd in Cherry Hill partnered with Cherry Hill Chinese Christian Church to host the special prom.

The effort began four years ago in response to the question, “How can we show the love of Jesus Christ?”

At Night to Shine, shared Nable, “you can see the Gospel at work. It speaks volumes to the congregation.”

And to the guests.

“That’s where the battleground is,” said Nable, noting so many families affected by special needs do not have the opportunity to hear the Gospel. He knows many of the challenges faced by this community keep them away from church activities.

Honored guest at the Blair County Night to Shine
An honored guest at the Blair County Night to Shine enjoys the festive atmosphere at Catalyst Church. Photo by Shannon Baker

Calvary’s Lesher agrees. She loves that there is an annual prom but knows more work needs to be done.

She pointed to the Tim Tebow Foundation’s latest effort, “Shine On,” which will seek to help churches host smaller scale activities for the special needs community, such as a movie or karaoke night, to help them stay more connected.

According to the foundation’s website, Shine On will seek to connect new and growing special needs programs within local churches to world-class faith-based resources that train, guide, and support churches as they serve their local community of people with special needs.

“When you are not around it, you do not understand the need for something like this,” Lesher stressed.

To learn more, visit the Tim Tebow’s Foundation website.