At Night to Shine prom, those with special needs celebrated as kings and queens

Students dance during a high school prom. PHOTO BY KAJETAN SUMILA/UNSPLASH

by Barb Arland-Fye

EAST MOLINE, Ill. (OSV News) — Each of 509 guests with special needs, many wearing prom dresses or suits and ties, approached the red carpet to await an introduction at their Night to Shine.

Bryce White, an elegantly dressed 25-year-old DJ, announced each guest’s name with enthusiasm. He shared something unique about the person, glancing at note cards for information.

“Courtney is going to bring some color into our lives because she loves to color!” Bryce exclaimed, describing one guest. “Stephanie is undefeated at Uno!” he enthused about another guest. Chad “plays second base in baseball. Welcome Chad!” One man clutched stuffed toy characters “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Patrick” as he made his way down the red carpet Feb. 10 at The Bend XPO events center.

White’s enthusiasm never ebbed during the two hours it took to introduce everyone — some walked steadily across the red carpet, others with assistance and some used wheelchairs. A few demonstrated their dance moves. They were pumped up for Night to Shine, a free prom for persons with special needs ages 14 and older, held around the world the Friday before Valentine’s Day. The local event draws people from throughout the Quad-City region.

Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, Iowa, and Bettendorf Christian Church in Bettendorf, Iowa, hosted the Quad Cities Night to Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. The two faith communities were among 622 churches in 46 countries that celebrated nearly 100,000 “Kings and Queens” at Night to Shine events this year, the Tim Tebow Foundation reported.

It was the first in-person Quad Cities Night to Shine since 2020. The 2021 event was virtual and the 2022 event was a hybrid, drive-through experience because of the pandemic, said Jennifer Hildebrand of the LeClaire parish, a Night to Shine leader from the start in 2017.

Some 776 volunteers participated in roles such as buddies partnered with guests, check-in assistants, coat checkers, crowning assistants, food service helpers, decorators, parking lot workers, red carpet cheering team, photographers, limo drivers, hair stylists and shoe shiners. Many came from parishes in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.

“The sense of community was palpable,” Hildebrand said. It began with the personalized red carpet introduction, continued through dinner, dancing, friendship building and the crowning of 500 kings and queens and ended with the train dance. “The MC who started the ‘train’ got the people going. There were wheelchairs in that line. That was pretty fun to watch,” she told The Catholic Messenger, Davenport’s diocesan newspaper.

White, a first-time Night to Shine volunteer, has plenty of experience with persons with special needs. His 16-year-old brother has Down syndrome and White feels especially blessed that they are siblings. Their bond inspired White to serve as a teacher’s assistant to students with special needs in high school. He also worked with an individual with autism.

The coolest part of Night to Shine, White said later, was watching 500 guests cross the red carpet and seeing all of the volunteers affirming the guests that “they are made in the image of God and we’re here to celebrate them.” He enjoyed seeing guests’ faces light up when he announced their names.

In the ballroom, Ray Shovlain, head coach for men’s basketball at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, bonded with his buddy, Bobby. “We’ve talked quite a bit but we haven’t danced yet Bobby,” Shovlain said. He and his basketball team try to volunteer every year at Night to Shine. “It’s a great experience for our guys.”

Shovlain takes to heart advice from his late mother: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” It is all about reaching out to others to make the world better and in the process, making yourself better, Shovlain added.

St. Ambrose basketball players Will Spriggs, Nathan Moeller and Max Steiner volunteered as buddies. Spriggs, a junior majoring in business and marketing, said he enjoyed “seeing everyone come together in a big community. Everyone is having a good time.”

“It’s something I definitely want to come back to in the future,” said Moeller, a junior majoring in computer science. Steiner, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, enjoyed the atmosphere and getting to know his buddy.

Deacon Bob Shaw of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport smiled as he watched the soon-to-be crowned kings and queens dancing to their heart’s content. His buddy, Nathan, was in the midst of it. Nathan loves to draw, likes the White Sox and the Chiefs and loves to dance, Deacon Shaw said.

Lauren Koster, a freshman at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, was among her college’s softball team members volunteering at Night to Shine.

“We were looking for a way to give back to the community,” said Koster, paired up with guest Colin. She has a special place in her heart for people with special needs. During high school, she assisted students with special needs in a PE class. Her inspiration grew from personal tragedy. Her 4-year-old brother died of leukemia when she was 2 years old. Now she is studying for a career as an oncology nurse.

Just before the crowning of the kings and queens, Deacon Matt Levy of Our Lady of the River was on stage to share some brief words. The deacon, who along with his wife, Lisa, volunteered as buddies, summed up the essence of the evening: “We know we serve the King of the Universe, and by doing so, we serve the kings and queens of the Quad Cities area.”

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