Michele Edmunds, 28, said she had never dressed up like this before, in such a sparkly, fancy dress. She’d never worn a tiara on a night out. And she’d certainly never before gone for a ride in a limousine.
Not until her Valentine’s Day weekend kicked off at Friday’s Night To Shine Special Needs Prom, held at Christ’s Church in Mandarin.
She went with her boyfriend, Michael Wolkowski, 38, who got up on the karaoke stage with her for Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and proved himself a more than capable air-guitarist.
This was the third year for the event, which is for people with developmental or physical impairments.
Christ’s Church had 75 guests at the first Night to Shine prom. The next year, the Tim Tebow Foundation adopted the event and took it to 50 churches. This year, it sponsored more than 200 Night to Shines in 48 states and eight countries.
Tebow, the former NFL, University of Florida and Nease High quarterback, was at a prom in Haiti on Thursday. He then flew to New York for a “Good Morning America” appearance Friday before heading to more proms that evening.
Edmunds wanted to make sure to thank him for her big night.
“If I met Tim Tebow, had a chance to meet him, I would tell him how grateful I am for everything he does, everything he tries to do for people with disabilities,” she said.
Edmunds said she and Wolkowski love dramas and Broadway and karaoke, and had another party to attend Saturday night. As far as plans for Valentine’s Day itself?
“I’m going to give her a big kiss,” Wolkowski announced.
She broke into laughter. He joined in, heartily.
Guests arrived at Christ’s Church in prom dresses or tuxes to find a red carpet waiting for them, as well as emcee Justin Black, 30, who greeted each one and announced their names through his microphone: Nicole. Patrick. Tyler. Amanda. Ariel. Serena. Stormy. John. Pam. Chris. Jared. A.J.
More than 250 names in all.
First though he leaned closely toward each guest, asking if they wanted to be cheered as they came in. Just about everyone said yes.
Cheers were not in short supply: More than 500 volunteers had come for the night, and a good number of them lined the red carpet to clap and holler for the new arrivals. The roars could be heard far inside the building.
Once in, women got hair and makeup sessions if they wanted. A tiara too, from volunteers wearing Team Tiara badges. Men got shoe-shines.
There were limo rides and photo sessions. There was a DJ in one big hall, where dancing went on all evening, and a karaoke machine in another.
Parents or caregivers got some time of their own, in yet another room where a quiet catered dinner and conversation was offered.
The church’s pastor, Jason Cullum, stood out in his zebra-striped tuxedo jacket. It wouldn’t be this prom without that jacket. He wore it the first year and can’t stop now. He explained what Night to Shine tried to do.
“Sometimes, in our community, people with disabilities get pushed to the side or told they can’t do something,” he said. “This is a night we tell them, you know what? You’re a queen. You’re a king.”
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