In keeping with one of my NY’s Resolutions to volunteer more, I decided to help out at Vancouver’s first ever Night to Shine event at Horizon Church in Surrey. The plan was to offer my skills as a marketer to help promote the event. Instead, I ended up in a role that, to be quite frank, I was uncomfortable with. I became a buddy.
Before I go into that, let me tell you a little bit about the event. Night to Shine is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation and their mission is to bring faith, hope, and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need. Through this mission comes Night to Shine. On February 9th, 2018, people with special needs were celebrated across the globe for their wonderfulness. This was their prom night.
Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. On one night, February 9, 2018, more than 540 churches from around the world will come together to host Night to Shine for approximately 90,000 honored guests through the support of 175,000 volunteers!
Guests came dressed up, walked the red carpet, and danced the night away! They could get their makeup and hair done by professionals, go wild with props at the photobooth, or sing their heart out at the karaoke station. And of course, like any other prom night, enjoy their corsages and ride in a limo!
As a buddy, I was assigned to a guest and my job was to make sure they had the best night ever. Earlier on I mentioned that I was uncomfortable in this role and here’s why. It wasn’t so much that I was uncomfortable as I was hesitant and nervous. I’d never had the pleasure of working with people with special needs before I started working at Stenberg College less than a year ago. The marketing department here employs six awesome marketing assistants from Semiahmoo House Society, who help us with various tasks for events and day-to-day operations. Despite the recent experience, I didn’t feel I was prepared to cope with someone’s special needs. Honestly, I just didn’t have confidence in myself. What if I did something wrong? What if I hurt them in some way? In retrospect, my reservations feel quite silly. The volunteer orientation covered everything from worst-case scenarios to sign language if my guest was non-verbal. When the special night finally arrived, I was astounded by the number of volunteers! SO many people came out to help! I was never ever alone.
My pal for the evening, Jane (name changed for privacy), was a delight! She arrived with her friends and we did everything together. They enjoyed it all; from getting their make up done to flaunting their glow sticks on the dance floor. It was their night to shine and shine they did.
To see guests walking across the carpet as volunteers cheered and applauded them was an experience I will never forget. Every individual handled the spotlight in their own unique way. While some shied away from the cameras and their fans, others basked in their own glory. Some flexed their muscles, some got up from their wheelchair to pose, some showed off the ever-so-awesome peace sign, and some just stood there enjoying the paparazzi. A few guests took a little time to process what was happening and when they realized they were being celebrated, you’d see a glimpse of a smile escape from their lips and their eyes would light up. Words cannot express the joy I felt in that moment and knowing that in my own small way I was able to make that smile happen. It was transformative.
Many times during the event, Jane would thank me for being there for her and I would always respond by thanking her right back. And I truly meant it. If she hadn’t come out, I would’ve missed out on so much fun! I wasn’t there as a favour to anybody. It was a privilege to be there. By participating in the event, Jane had allowed me into her world, if only for a few hours, and for that, I will forever be thankful.
And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of*ten Grinches, plus two!
If you’ve seen or read How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, you’ll remember how the Grinch’s heart grows three times when he finally understands the meaning of Christmas. Without calling myself the Grinch, I’ll admit that volunteering at Night to Shine had a similar effect on me. My heart grew a couple sizes. Literally. (Just kidding!) But really, it might as well have. I spent hours processing my emotions when I got home last night and am still processing them the next day. Every time I think about the guests’ smiling faces and impressive dance moves, I fail to hold back tears of utter and pure happiness.
Toward the end of the night, right after the crowning ceremony (yes, all guests received a crown! How amazing is that!!) one of the organizers took to the stage to say a few words. He said (and I’m paraphrasing):
Thank you to all the guests for coming out. You teach us to love a little better, to love a little deeper. Thank you for being you and thank you for making the city a better place.
Isn’t that true? I do believe that I learned something about love. Seeing the guests’ families and how much this night meant to them as well was nothing short of a revelation. Families and guests of all ethnicities and age groups came together to celebrate the joys of their life. I witnessed love in it’s purest form last night and that’s something I will never forget.
Thank you everyone who made this night possible!