York church gives special needs guests 'A Night to Shine'

Andrea Castillo
Contact Reporteracastillo@dailypress.com
Northside church gives special needs guests "A Night to Shine"

When Jonathan Amer and Clinton Johnson met about two or so years ago, they became "best friends instantly," according to Johnson. The two attend Northside Christian Church in York County and were former neighbors.

So it was fitting that Johnson would accompany Amer to their church's special needs prom Feb. 12 as his buddy.

Amer, 18, a senior at Denbigh High School, has Fragile X syndrome, a genetic intellectual disability.

He was all smiles as he walked into the church, and onto a red carpet, wearing a light gray suit and a red tie he picked out for the occasion. A crowd cheered and took pictures of him.

After dinner from Chick-fil-A, a pair of girls asked Amer and Johnson to dance.

"It's been a lot of fun tonight," said Johnson, a 15-year-old freshman at Tabb High School.

Northside Church was one of more than 200 churches in 48 states and eight countries that hosted the Tim Tebow Foundation's "Night to Shine," proms open to people 16 and older with special needs on Valentine's Day weekend.

A buddy accompanied each guest throughout the evening. This year was the foundation's second hosting the event and the first at Northside. About 100 guests and 300 volunteers were registered for the event, church leaders said.

"For him, it's a big deal. For me and my husband it's a big deal," said Amer's mother Lori, who was volunteering for the event and also serves as an advocate for families who have a loved one diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome.

Though several other events on the Peninsula were canceled because of snow that started earlier that afternoon, it didn't stop the guests and volunteers from having a good time.

Everyone got a chance to ride in a limo and received corsages and boutonnieres. Each of the guests also got a crown or a tiara and was named king or queen of the prom.

"It's a night for you, a night for you to shine," Tebow said in a video at the event.

Northside serves those with special needs throughout the year as well, offering a Sunday school program that pairs each one with a friend, said Northside senior minister Larry Jones.

"This church is for people in need, (for them) to know God loves them and they matter," he said.

Apart from the dancing found at a typical prom, there was also karaoke, a movie, games, cornhole, coloring and a photo booth, as well as shoe shine and hair and makeup stations.

"My proms were never this fun," said Phyllis Neill, who accompanied Presley Reinhard, once a student in Neill's fifth-grade Sunday school class.

While the prom brought together old friends, it also brought together strangers that formed new friendships.

Poquoson High School junior Savanana Gorman, who moved to the area from Goldsboro, N.C., decided to volunteer for the event after seeing a video about it.

She spent the evening as buddy to Kelsey Musick, who wore a purple dress, and with one hand on her hip and the other in the air, strutted down the red carpet to applause and cheering.

"I would not change it for the world," said Gorman, who met Musick for the first time that night. "It's the best day ever."

Bobbi Morris of Hampton served as a buddy to a 67-year-old woman named Joan who likes Michael Jackson, and the two watched others dance.

"It's just whatever she wants to do," Morris said.

After all of the hard work the volunteers put in to make Night to Shine happen, it was rewarding to see the fruits of their labor, said Lindsay Rogers, a member of Northside who served as event coordinator.

"It's amazing. It couldn't be any better," she said. "To see everything fall into place … to be honest, I'm at a loss for words."

Castillo can be reached by phone at 757-247-4635.

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