By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Night to Shine, a prom experience for persons with special needs ages 14 and older, returns as an in-person celebration at more than 750 locations worldwide, including in the Quad Cities. Each celebration happens the Friday before Valentine’s Day, which is Feb. 10. The Quad Cities Night to Shine takes place from 6-9 p.m. at the Bend XPO in East Moline, Illinois.
Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire is collaborating with a new partner, Bettendorf Christian Church, to host the first in-person Quad Cities Night to Shine since 2020. The 2021 event was virtual and the 2022 event was a hybrid, drive-through prom experience because of the pandemic, said Jennifer Hildebrand of the LeClaire parish, a Night to Shine leader from the start in 2017.
The glitzy, glamorous, over-the-top prom, underwritten by the Tim Tebow Foundation and local donors, brings joy to guests with special needs who eagerly await their crowning as queens and kings during their Night to Shine. It is a feast of music, dancing, food, photos and friendship and depends on hundreds of volunteers — 750 to be exact — to make it memorable for the 500 guests.
“I just get so much joy from seeing the joy on everyone’s faces, both guests and volunteers, the night of the event,” Hildebrand said. The behind-the-scenes efforts are worth it, “just to know that everyone’s heart is changed that night.”
She wondered the first year why the Tim Tebow Foundation, which founded Night to Shine, insisted on so many volunteers for the prom experience. After-wards, she understood. Guests and volunteers had a profound effect on each other as they celebrated their uniqueness melded with a common need for acceptance and love. The experience leaves all involved with a lasting impression, Hildebrand said. She especially appreciates youth groups whose members serve as buddies and the way in which their experience shapes their attitudes and understanding of people with special needs.
Emily Pries, the executive secretary of Bishop Thomas Zinkula, coordinates all the online guests and volunteer registrations for Night to Shine (NTS). “With a live, in-person event this year it is going to be a BIG job, but I am really excited. This is only my second year volunteering for NTS. My parents, Bonnie and Randy Beyhl, have been involved in it since it started here in the Quad Cities, so my husband Jake and I decided to join them in volunteering last year for the ‘drive-through/virtual’ event.”
“The excitement on the faces of the guests and just all the details that go into making this a special night for our beloved ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ makes it all worth it,” Pries said. “I hope people will consider volunteering this year — you will not leave unchanged and there are so many opportunities to assist. You can view the volunteer roles online (https://www.qcnight2shine.org/volunteer).”
Probably the most popular volunteer position is “buddy.” Buddies accompany and assist their assigned guest throughout the evening, sitting with them at dinner, engaging them in conversation, dancing with them if they wish to dance, cheering them on and being joyful and supportive. Other volunteer positions include guest check-in, greeters, and attendants at the candy bar, coat checkers, crowning assistants, food service helpers, decorators, hair stylists, limo drivers, parking lot workers, red carpet cheering team and more.
Monica Kruse, whose day job is handling mortgage loan closings, fell in love with Night to Shine her first year as a volunteer. “I loved it. I didn’t know what to expect. It was such a top-notch event with so many things for the guests,” she said. After volunteering in food service the first year, she chose to be a buddy and made it her mission to invite other people to volunteer. She connected Bettendorf Christian Church with Our Lady of the River.
“I work with several service organizations in the community and this is my favorite event,” she said. “You get caught up in the excitement. I have never met a more appreciative, joyful group of people than the special needs community. I’ve run into my buddies in the past in the community and they always remember me. They can’t wait for the next event.”
“If you’re not comfortable being a buddy, you can be assisting on the dance floor, working in the food line or checking in guests. There’s something for everyone to do.” Kruse’s teen-age daughter and her friends began volunteering at Night to Shine when they were able. “They all loved it. Everyone I invited to volunteer has always come back the next year.”
Register for Night to Shine
Registration for Quad Cities Night to Shine, a free prom experience for persons with special needs, ages 14 and older, is underway for guests and volunteers (qcnight2shine.org). Guests must live in an eight-county area surrounding the Quad Cities: Scott, Clinton, Muscatine and Cedar in the Iowa Quad-City region and Rock Island, Mercer, Whiteside and Henry counties in the Illinois Quad-City region. Registration closes Jan. 15.
The Tim Tebow Foundation, host churches and numerous local companies and individuals underwrite the event. This fall, Scott County Regional Authority awarded a $15,000 grant for the Night to Shine and the Regional Development Authority awarded $7,500, among other funders.