It’s sure to be a happy Valentine’s Day season for thousands of young people thanks to Tim Tebow. For the third consecutive year, the former national champion Florida Gator and NFL signal caller is behind the worldwide party known as Night to Shine.
The Tim Tebow Foundation runs Night to Shine, which is a prom night experience for people with special needs ages 14 and over. The event includes plenty of dancing and fun, but most of all it’s about God’s love.
Night to Shine started off modestly in 2015. Tebow and his foundation came up with the idea to basically throw a prom for people with mental and physical disabilities. The idea that started out as a small blaze became reality and it has since caught fire. Participants the last two years have been treated to a night in dresses and tuxedos, filled with hair styling and makeup stations, shoe shine stands, karaoke rooms, photo booths, and much more. Tebow and his group wants to redefine Valentine’s Day by encouraging people to focus on things bigger than themselves. Judging by the skyrocketing numbers, it has been a smashing success.
The 2015 edition of Night to Shine featured 44 simultaneous prom events. More than 7,000 people with special needs attended these events, which were held in churches in 26 states and two foreign countries. Not a bad start. In 2016, a whopping 32,000 guests attended gatherings in 201 locations. Now, with more and more churches jumping on board to sponsor each event, the numbers continue to grow.
As of the latest count, the 2017 Night to Shine will take place at 375 locations in all 50 states and 11 foreign countries. Thousands of guests and volunteers are expected to enjoy a meal, desserts, fellowship, and plenty of partying on February 10, 2017.
While Night to Shine surely has an impact on those attending as prom kings and queens, it also leaves quite an impression on those who volunteer. I can tell you that from personal experience. Last year, I volunteered at one of the Night to Shine locations. It was absolutely amazing.
I served as a buddy. Each attendee of Night to Shine is paired with a volunteer (buddy), who basically serves as their chaperone for the evening. I was paired with a young man named John. We were a perfect match.
John was funny, warm, caring, and smart. As the songs played throughout the night, John was able to name most of them within three or four notes. As a music buff myself, he impressed me to no end. I rode in a limo with John and other guests and volunteers. We walked the red carpet, which is customary at Night to Shine. We went on to have a blast with our table mates and others at the event. John even got up and sang ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’ by the Police in front of the crowd. He was given the royal treatment. It was well deserved. John’s mom and aunt told me afterwards that he had a great time. I’m certain he taught me at least as much, and probably more than I taught him.
Maddie Hungate was a fellow volunteer at my table in 2016. She summed up beautifully why people turn out in droves to support this incredible cause. “I volunteered for Night to Shine because one of my passions is loving people who were created differently than myself, and having a night that was solely devoted to making these individuals feel beautiful, handsome, and extraordinary was something that I wanted to be apart of,” said Hungate. “I also really enjoy serving my community in such a tangible way.”
While I heard about Night to Shine through Tebow, Hungate learned of the mission through her church. I was brought to the event through my connection with sports. I know what a solid individual Tebow is because I’ve followed his career since he was a freshman at Florida. For Hungate it had little to do with athletics. “I really don’t know much about Tim Tebow other than he’s a football player and he loves the same Lord that I do, so if he is willing to support and fund an event for people with disabilities, then he sounds like a great guy,” Hungate beamed. “I love that our church got to love on the community and their families in a way that was just so special for everyone involved.”
Last year, I volunteered at the event sponsored by Hungate’s church. This year, my home church has joined the Night to Shine roster. My children and I are excited to be providing desserts for the guests this time around. My kids are excited to join Team Tebow. I can relate to that.
I was absolutely blown away with how well last year’s bash was run. From the giant balloon drop on the dance floor to the gourmet food to the overall friendless of all on hand, things went as smoothly as a late game drive down the field from the 2008 Gators. I’m not alone in that assessment.
“The event was way more than I ever envisioned–(my church) did a phenomenal job with all aspects of the event, from providing cosmetologists, to limo rides, to photos, karaoke and red carpet appearances, they simply thought of everything to make this night one that no one would forget,” Hungate said. “I would do this event once a month if they’d let me.”
As far as the highlights–there were plenty of touchdowns. “I think the best part of the night was when my guest asked me to sing karaoke with her,” Hungate told sarahpalin.com. “She was so excited when they announced that there was a karaoke room, but she was too shy to do it alone. We sang Taylor Swift’s “Our Song,” and jammed out with the audience, it was a blast. Oh and I can’t forget about the dessert–it was delicious.”
The genuine enjoyment permeates from the guests and volunteers. Thousands of people join together to celebrate and demonstrate God’s love. You can’t beat that. Now, it looks like a three-peat is likely.
All indications point to another magical night for the 2017 edition of Night to Shine. As he’s done in the first two years, Tebow, himself is expected make surprise appearances at some of the events. The southpaw keeps his travel plans close to the vest until the big night rolls around. Every location however, is star studded. It’s the prom kings and queens that are the real draw.
As for volunteers, they don’t only help on the night of the prom but also before and after, by donating dresses, tuxes, food, and decorations and by setting up and tearing down when all the confetti has fallen. Volunteers also help to spread the word about the event and they assist in signing up potential attendees.
Churches from all denominations and no denomination at all participate in Night to Shine. That in itself has touched Tebow, who has said it’s all about simply loving God and loving people.
Just like Tebow and Maddie Hungate, Night to Shine has touched me too. I quote my buddy John often and I’ve taught my own children some great lessons because of my time with him. Plus, I always think of John whenever his favorite Police song comes on the radio. I’ve kept in touch with his family. The relationships created through Tebow at Night to Shine are lasting. God’s hand is firmly on this work of love.
Tim Tebow is arguably the greatest college football player of all-time. Many believe he was not given a fair shake in the pros. Today, Tebow is chasing his baseball dreams as a member of the New York Mets organization. He is an amazing ball player and athlete. He deserves many accolades for all of that. He’s likely to earn many more. But when it comes to caring for people and to making lives better, Tebow is already the undisputed MVP.
Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla