WILKES-BARRE — Local special-needs teens got the star treatment Friday night, thanks to a former star football player whose focused on making a difference in lives.
Through his foundation and partnership with places of worship throughout the world, Tim Tebow created “A Night to Shine.” The annual event is held at the same time all over the world. It was hosted by more than 540 churches in the United States, along with an additional 16 countries worldwide. Together, more than 90,000 individuals with special needs participated, according to the foundation’s website.
In downtown Wilkes-Barre, ushers paved the way for guests to enter Genetti Hotel & Conference Center from Market Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Inside, hundreds of volunteers, caregivers and more gathered as they placed the finishing touches on not only the atmosphere, but the guests as well. After registering at the reception table, guests were swept away into a “style studio” to have hair and makeup applied, shoes shined, and corresponding corsages and boutonnieres applied before receiving a swag bag filled with items and a professional photograph of the guest.
Pastor Errol Morgan leads the Parker Hill Church on River Street in Wilkes-Barre, and helped bring the event to the city with the help of his sister church, Parker Hill Church of Dickson City.
“We believe that the special needs community is often forgotten. It’s a marginalized group of people that we want to honor, and we just want to give them a night that, hopefully, that they’ll never forget,” he explained.
“A Night to Shine” has been held in Wilkes-Barre for the past three years. A second “Night to Shine” was held at the Dickson City Park Hill Church. Roughly 130 guests attended each event, along with additional caregivers and volunteers.
Each guest could be accompanied by a volunteer chaperone or “buddy” for the night, who remained by their side to assist them.
Guests got a special introduction as well. As their names were announced to the crowd, they walked a red carpet and posed for photographs while volunteers acting as paparazzi clapped, cheered and snapped photos. After receiving their very own crown or tiara, they were seated with their buddies to enjoy dinner and dancing, karaoke, balloon animals and more. Special limousine rides were also available.
In a room across the hall, caregivers were able to enjoy a special dinner with one another. St. Joseph’s Center house supervisor Helene Lazarchick explained that she brought five of her clients to the event.
“We came last year, and we really, really had a good time. So we decided to come again,” she said. “(They enjoy) the socialization, just being out within the community. Getting dressed up and just having fun.”
Hannah Maxwell, 16, of Forty Fort, decided to volunteer as a buddy for the evening after hearing about “Night to Shine” from a friend.
“They needed somebody, so of course I (said I’d help out),” she said. “Tonight we’re in charge of being a little buddy and just making sure your person has fun and is making a memorable night, because it’s their special night and you just want to make them feel special.”
“Night to Shine” works with area schools and organizations to offer the free event to special-needs clientele ages 14 and up.