Friday was a memorable night for special needs individuals at the James E. Bruce Convention Center for Night to Shine.
The prom night included refreshments, karaoke, a dance floor, crowning of kings and queens, free limo rides and lots of other activities.
The evening was presented by Hillcrest Baptist Church and sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
“Night to Shine is a night for the churches to shine, the volunteers to shine, our honored guests to shine, and most importantly, God to shine,” according to the foundation website.
An international event, in 2019, “655 churches from around the world came together to host Night to Shine for approximately 100,000 honored guests through the support of 200,000 volunteers,” according to the foundation website.
Somewhere between 700 and 750 people packed the Bruce Friday night to hit dance moves, sing their lungs out and see their friends and family have a special night and be honored in front of everyone.
Roughly 225 special needs guests attended the event. Volunteers, guardians and “buddies” made up the rest of the crowd.
Last year, the event saw about 161 special guests, showing the event grew for the second Night to Shine.
Hillcrest Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Joe Bufford explained that every special guest was paired with a volunteer buddy.
“We put a buddy with every special guest, or as they like to refer to them, their ‘dates’, but everybody gets their buddy,” Bufford said.
The buddies then accompany their special guest, dancing with them, talking with them and having fun together.
Toward the end of the night, the special guests get to be honored in front of everyone as they are crowned a king or queen by their buddy and their name is called out so everyone in the ballroom can recognize them.
Christy Rushing, a member of Hillcrest and the director of the event, shared that they crown every single special guest in order for them to have their very own individual special moment to shine.
“We do that so everyone can have their special moment, everyone individually,” Rushing said. “God created us all individually, and everybody deserves to be crowned as a king or a queen.”
Both Rushing and Bufford said that not only is the event centered around having a night for special needs individuals to shine, but it is also to show God loves everyone regardless of how they look or who they might be.
“We just want everyone to know that we are created in God’s image, no matter what we look like or what we don’t look like,” Bufford said. “(This night) is just to love on those with special needs and let them know that there is a god who loves them.
“This is another way to shine the light of Christ and let people see and catch a glimpse of what the love of God looks like.”
The success of Night to Shine’s second year was thanks to the community’s support. Both Rushing and Bufford shared their gratitude and were happy to see the community’s involvement in the event.
“Tonight has gone wonderful and I’m excited,” Rushing said. “It’s wonderful that people have actually spread the news out there for us (about the event). So, the (success) means the word is getting out and we can only grow from there.
“That makes it even more special because more people get to be recognized that needed to be recognized. I would like to thank the community for all the support that we’ve had. The community has just been wonderful. They’ve supported us so well in all of this and we couldn’t do it without them.”
Bufford added that it wasn’t just Christian County community members, but people all the way from Madisonville and Clarksville that also attended and volunteered at the event.
“For our second year, we’re pretty tickled. Last year we had about 600 people; this year, we’ve had somewhere between 700 and 750. So, yeah, we’re just tickled,” Bufford said.