Six years ago Tim Tebow, professional baseball and football player, organized the first Night to Shine across 3 countries, 26 states, and 44 churches. 15,000 volunteers came together for that first year’s 7,000 guests. In February of 2020, those numbers raised insurmountably. Across all 50 states and 34 countries, 721 churches celebrated 110,000 guests alongside 215,000 volunteers! As written by Tim Tebow himself on the official website for the event, “I was so excited to create the Tim Tebow Foundation with a mission to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” What is Night to Shine? How is it operating this year? How can we get involved?
Our own local Crossbridge Community Church was one of the aforementioned who participates in this event. As a result, I had the ability and pleasure of talking to Crossbridge’s Jeanine Robbins, the church’s special needs coordinator. Like everyone I have ever met associated with Crossbridge, Jeanine was incredibly kind and helpful– working time into her day to answer some of my questions happily. Our conversation through email and on the phone covered the following:
In 2017, Crossbridge was in contact with another church in North Jersey that had already hosted the event, which resulted in the church’s inspiration to bring Night to Shine to our area as well. From then on, a project much bigger than it seems began to take form– even though Night to Shine Prom is only one day a year, a team at the church works year-round to organize every detail including the venue, the financial aspects, the recruitment and training of hundreds of volunteers, and everything else you could possibly think of!
As for the training of volunteers, 2 to 3 sessions are held in which the Crossbridge team runs through sensory issues and how to best aid their guests in having the best and safest night possible. One of their main strategies in doing this includes sensory stations, where volunteers can “walk in the shoes” of someone with special needs. One of Jeanine Robbins’ favorite stations is the sensory overload station, where other volunteers bang on a table while one of their peers tries to solve a math equation– such a brilliant and creative way to have others understand what their guest may be experiencing with so much stimulus and excitement on Prom Night.
After all of their delicate planning and fundraising, Night to Shine finally rolls around. As for the actual proceedings, the guests first arrive to a warm welcome and check-in, before selecting their buddy for the night (anyone 15 years old or older). Prom flowers are received and the pair make their way down the red carpet with cheering “paparazzi” to the main ballroom. From there the true party begins, with dinner, dancing, prayer, a message from Tim Tebow, a balloon drop, and– one of my favorite parts– the crowning ceremony where each guest is crowned King or Queen. Additional activities are included for the guests to choose to partake in if they wish to, including limo rides, professional prom photos, a visit from the Philly Phanatic, and so much more. As for the parents, who rarely get time to mingle as a result of caring for someone with special needs, Crossbridge sets up a respite room to dance, eat, relax, and just interact with one another. For guests who feel too overwhelmed at some points of the night, Crossbridge sets aside a sensory room to relax and regroup, which personally really warms my heart from the simple consideration this team puts in to create a wonderful night.
As we all know, this year has put a halt to most in-person things we usually have the privilege of enjoying– concerts, homecoming, football games, and prom– Night to Shine Prom is no different. So how is 2021 going to work? As explained by Jeanine and on the official website, on February 12 from 6-7 pm there will be a virtual celebration! Locally, Crossbridge is in the process of working to provide guests, parents, and caregivers special prom kits with flowers, crowns and tiaras, and other goodies! During such a difficult time, it is obvious to see Night to Shine is doing the best they can to continue to create a memorable night for their guests.
For Jeanine Robbins personally, her gratification comes in seeing the mission and vision of the event come alive in the community not only on the night of the prom but throughout the year as well. For the church, their goal is to “guide and encourage with God’s love the ripple of acceptance and inclusion that began in our Crossbrdge Community to spread through and beyond Night to Shine.” Through Night to Shine, Crossbridge hopes to open the community to God to those with special needs, which can be seen coming to life each year.
Last year, my mom and I both volunteered at Night to Shine. It was one of the most magical nights I had ever experienced– seeing so much joy on the faces of the guests and the volunteers. My mom and I are not religious, but that did not diminish the amount of love and acceptance felt from the Corssbrige community in every corner of that ballroom, and in every smile we saw. In the simplest of words, Night to Shine– whether virtual or in-person– is a celebration and adoration for life, and it makes the world seem a little brighter.
An individual with special needs age 14 or older is invited to attend Night to Shine– to register, watch the recap video from 2020 Night to Shine, sign up to volunteer, donate, or for any other information, go to crossbridgecc.org.