Persons, places and things: A Night to Shine in the respite room


By Barb Arland-Fye


Barb arrived at Night to Shine with a frown on her face. “I really don’t want to be here,” she told me, her buddy, chosen at random to accompany her at Night to Shine, a glitzy prom that celebrates people with special needs.

Tim Tebow founded Night to Shine and his foundation sponsors the annual prom, celebrated the Friday before Valentine’s Day around the world. Parishioners from the Diocese of Davenport were among the hundreds of volunteers at the Quad Cities Night to Shine, hosted by Bridge Cities Church in Bettendorf on Feb. 9 at the Bend XPO in East Moline, Illinois.

The neon-pink “Buddy Checklist” inside my backpack stated, “You will accompany your guest throughout the evening and make sure they have an opportunity to get to all the activities” that include a red carpet introduction, limo ride, dancing, dining, photo booth, and crowning. However, there is a caveat: “If they prefer not to participate in a specific activity, honor their wishes. Remember, this is THEIR night to shine.”


Pope Francis said people with disabilities need to be accompanied with “big hearts” and that means “changing our mentality a little and opening ourselves to the abilities and talents of these people who are differently abled, both in society as well as in the life of the Church” (Vatican News, Nov. 28 2023).

As a first-time buddy, and the mother of a son with autism, I appreciate the Holy Father’s advice to have a big heart and to change my mentality a little in accompanying individuals with special needs. Yet, I long for them to experience the joys amid the challenges in their lives. My goal: to get Barb to smile and have some fun.

Barb declined her personalized introduction on the red carpet. She said she was hungry, so I suggested we bypass the red carpet and go to the food line. With some 500+ prom-goers and a buddy for each, the serpentine lines for activities and food seemed daunting. Barb and I sat down in chairs against a curtain that separated us from the red carpet area but not the boisterous introduction of guests.

The pained look on Barb’s face signaled a need for a quiet place. I flagged down a food server, who led us to the respite room, assuring us food would be available there. Thank goodness! Barb held on to the crook of my arm as we walked to the respite room, where she filled her plate with the hot food items. We sat down at a table and I unwrapped a sandwich and vegetables I had packed for myself. We shared some of my snap peas, which she said tasted good.

I asked Barb about her family, favorite foods and activities. During a call she made later to her sister on her flip phone, I heard Barb say, “I’m here with my friend.” I felt blessed.

Atop each of the tables in the respite room were games, puzzles or coloring books and pencils. When I learned Barb enjoyed coloring, I grabbed the coloring books and the two of us started coloring. Another volunteer joined us and we became so absorbed in our artwork that we almost missed the crowning ceremony — the finale of Night to Shine. Every guest has the opportunity to be crowned as a king or queen. Barb allowed me to get a crown for her, which she accepted happily.

Tebow wants every person living with special needs to know that they matter, are loved and valued. “Too often they are denied the same opportunities as their peers to engage not only in the life of their local community but also in the life of the Church,” he says on his foundation’s website.

I hope Barb experienced, in some small way, a Night to Shine that left her feeling that she matters, is loved and valued.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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