Volunteers and guests gathered for an unforgettable prom night experience this past Friday night, where the red carpet was rolled out for attendees at the annual “Night to Shine” prom held at Second Baptist Church of Cedartown.
Created and sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, the 2019 event was hosted in 655 churches worldwide to celebrate over 100,000 individuals over the age of 14 who have special needs. Events all over the world were hosted on the same night of February 8.
The local event has been put on by New Hope Fellowship Church in Cedartown for the past four years, giving attendees a chance to walk in the spotlight.
Volunteers welcomed the guests into the building before they were then introduced to their “Buddy,” or date, for the night.
Each Buddy escorted their guest to numerous rooms filled with royal treatment and entertainment.
The guests all received preparation for the dance, including hair styling, makeup, and shoe shines, and were presented with a crown or tiara before walking down the red carpet to the fun-filled night of events.
Entertainment was offered aside from the dance floor and DJ, including limo and party bus rides, a magic show, a clown, arts and crafts, karaoke, and a room full of dogs.
All guests and their dates were also professionally photographed in order to have a keepsake from the event.
Rockmart High School student L.J. Pace was one of many who volunteered as a Buddy.
“Being able to make someone’s royal dream a reality is amazing,” Pace said.
“Seeing an event where the most underserved people are being served is heartwarming,” Pace added. “The smiles, hugs, and kisses are evidence that you have given the guest one of the greatest nights of their life. I was able to make a special connection with my Buddy through sign language. I believe I’ve made a lifelong friend.”
Many volunteers were needed to make the large event a success for the number of guests.
“Tonight was the largest event we’ve had,” assistant director Ronni Heard said.
She added that the Feb. 8 event hosted approximately 140 guests and 550 volunteers inside the Cedartown church.
Within the large group of volunteers, many committees are formed in order to make sure all roles and responsibilities are taken care of.
Rockmart and Cedartown High School teacher Brigitte Tillery has the position of “Buddy Coordinator,” and works to ensure each guest is perfectly matched with a volunteer Buddy.
“It’s so near and dear to my heart because I teach many of the high school students who volunteer as Buddies,” Tillery said. “It is so rewarding to me to watch my students interact with the guests in the way that they do. Some of them build life-long relationships.”
Director Mark Watters shed praise on the large volunteer base, and added that the number of volunteers grows each year.
“It takes every volunteer from the ones who open the car doors and park the cars to the ones who take the trash out and clean up at the end of the night,” director Mark Watters said.
Numerous trained safety and medical groups were present, and the Army National Guard even made a visit to volunteer.
Watters said that volunteers worked from Sunday afternoon after the church’s last service until Friday right before the event to have everything set up and ready for the guests to arrive. He added that the church would be back to normal by Saturday night.
“This community is amazing,” Watters said. “Not only do they support us with volunteers, but they also provide all of the funds to put this event on.”
Local fundraisers were held leading up to the event, including several Chick-fil-A Spirit Nights in Rockmart to raise the amount of money needed, which last year totaled to $8,000 in costs.
“But it costs the guests absolutely nothing,” Watters said. He added that dresses and formal wear are provided through donations if needed.
Many even travel from surrounding counties to volunteer and experience the life-changing event.
Since Heard is a student at Jacksonville State University, she spread the word of the event to friends on campus.
Eighteen JSU football players showed up as volunteers during the Friday night, with most of them being Buddies for the guests.
“We had a good group this year,” Watters said. “We couldn't have asked for a better night, and I hope next year is even better.”
For those interested in becoming involved, look for updates on the organization’s Facebook page, Night To Shine New Hope Fellowship, or visit https://www.timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine to find more events in surrounding areas.