Prom gives those with special needs a Night to Shine

Natalie Joseph

From the moment Ryanne Tyler met her buddy Savannah Phillips at Northside Christian Church for A Night to Shine, the two were a perfect match.

Throughout Friday's event, which serves as a prom for people with special needs, both of their smiles shined brighter than the perfectly placed sequins on Ryanne's long, dark blue dress.

"We're a great pair. This has been a great experience, but this moment is for Ryanne. Tonight has shown me not to put myself first but to put other people before me," Phillips said.

Departing from her mom and grandmother with a big hug, Ryanne, 18, and Phillips, 20, took off in a black stretch limo to start their evening at the Tim Tebow Foundation-sponsored event.

The limo took the pair around the church parking lot to the prom entrance, which featured a red carpet, as they were greeted with cheers from members of the York County church's congregation.

Inside the limo, Ryanne and Phillips shared a special moment, when Ryanne turned to her buddy and said, "this is so fun."

"I was waiting for this my whole life," Ryanne said.

Inside the church, Tyler posed for a few photos and talked with Phillips about everything from sports to pets, before doing what she wanted to do all night — dance.

After the DJ asked the 99 guests and their buddies, "are you ready to dance?" Ryanne was the first one on the dance floor, with Phillips right beside her.

"My favorite part is the dancing! I wanted to come back this year because it was awesome last year and I just want to have fun," Ryanne said.

Friday night marked the Northside Christian Church's second time hosting A Night to Shine, which had 80 guests last year, including Tyler, who said it was her first prom.

Bringing her daughter back for the second year was also special for Ryanne's mother, Tara Tyler, who helped her daughter get ready and watched her dance the night away from a caregivers and family lounge.

"I brought her back again because last year was simply the most magical, overwhelming evening that any parent could experience with a child like Ryanne. From the minute she walks in the door it's like her own little world," Tara Tyler said. "Coming into last year, I had never seen anything put together so that children and adults can come in and not even realize that it's a prom geared to people just like them."

Before the guests were crowned the queens and kings of the prom, Larry Jones, senior minister at Northside, blessed the group, and Tim Tebow shared a message via video board.

"Just to see the joy on their faces is a really blessing for us," Jones said. "This is a perfect fit for our church because our church loves people, loves to serve and they gain a lot of joy from giving to people no thought of return. I just knew people would enjoy it."

Organized by a group of 12 congregation members led Lindsay Rogers, the group planned the event throughout the entire year, working hand-in-hand with the Tim Tebow Foundation to make it a special night.

"There's nothing really like this around here. Between the Tim Tebow Foundation and it being aligned with our priorities and mission, this is such a great fit for us," Rogers said.

A Night to Shine is for adults and young adults 16 and older. During the three-hour event, guests have the option to get their hair done and shoes shined, and they also receive a corsage or boutonniere.

Each guest is paired up with a buddy who volunteers to assist the guest and have fun with him or her throughout the night, which takes place around Valentine's Day at churches across the country.

"There is a significance that this usually takes place around Valentine's Day because our culture thinks of love at Valentine's Day and they want to take their date out. What Tim Tebow has tried to stress is, in a season that we think about love, he wants to make sure that it's a very unselfish kind of love and that we think of how God's love can be expressed to people with special needs," Jones said.

Joseph can be reached by phone at 757-374-3134.

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