From teenage triplets to a 64-year-old woman who has never worn a formal gown before, a local church is set to celebrate an estimated 150 special needs children and adults by hosting a Night to Shine and crowning each participant prom king or queen.

The prom, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, has room for at least 20 more special needs guests from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Crestview Church of Christ, organizer and Crestview’s Community Minister Jack Whiddon said.

As decorations started going up at the church’s community center Wednesday, organizers said they hope the unfilled spots will be filled so as many people as possible get a chance to be greeted by local celebrities and pose for pictures on a red carpet on their way into the event.

“It’s to celebrate that they were created in the image of God and that they have a purpose,” said organizer Susie Marek, a partner with the Heart of Central Texas Independent Living Center. “They spend so much time in doctors’ appointments and therapy appointments and all that stuff, it’s great to have a night where they can just be celebrated for who they are.”

Whiddon and his team have been planning the event since at least October, when the foundation selected the church as one of more than 500 worldwide to host simultaneous prom nights and gave the church an $8,500 grant to help cover the cost. Crestview Church of Christ will be the first church in Central Texas to host Night to Shine.

The event is open to people age 14 and older with special needs.

Organizers have found enough volunteers, some of whom are even wait-listed, to be buddies or partners for guests on the dance floor and to ensure the event runs smoothly. The church has also received other donations in food, decorations and supplies, and it has held at least six dress donation nights for soon-to-be queens to pick out a gown for their coronation ceremony.

“We had people from 14 years of age trying them on to 64 trying them on,” Whiddon said. “And that story’s pretty incredible because she wore the dress and her brother was right there, and he said, ‘You look so beautiful.’ I can’t even say it. Look, I’m about to cry.”

The woman, who goes by Mary, did not realize she could keep the dress, and her brother had never seen her in a dress before the moment, Marek said. Mary now mentions every time she sees Marek all the ways and occasions she plans on wearing the black gown, she said.

The hope is for Night to Shine to be the the start of an ongoing ministerial effort to support the special needs community in McLennan County, said Kathleen Stottlemyre, who helped organize the dress donations at the church.

“I’m excited to see all the volunteers who are not used to serving people with special needs. That’s always so fun for me,” said organizer Kari McKown, who heads up No Limitations, a local special needs sports ministry. “When groups come to No Limitations, they come back and come back because it’s addicting. You can’t get enough of it.”

The volunteer support has come from a broad base, she said.

When the planning started, organizers set their sights on bringing out high school and college sports teams, mascots, cheerleaders or maybe bigger stars, like “Fixer Upper’s” Chip and Joanna Gaines, or Tebow himself, Crestview Children’s Minister Emily Christian said.

But the Gaineses told organizers they would not make it because they had already committed to separate Tebow fundraiser the same night, Whiddon said. And it is unknown whether Tebow will make an appearance, since the foundation does not usually reveal where he will be ahead of time, Whiddon said.

Tebow was recently in town to help the Gaineses finish a “Fixer Upper” home for a family with two special needs children in the HGTV show’s final season.

Instead, guests will be greeted by Baylor University’s Courtside Players band, which plays at Baylor basketball and volleyball games; local cheerleaders from the college and surrounding high schools; KWTX anchor Julie Hays and meteorologist Rusty Garrett; and Miss Texas Collegiate representatives.

Guests will also be treated to a primping station for hair, makeup and shoe shines, boutonnieres and corsages; and photo, karaoke, games, sensory, medical and respite rooms, Whiddon said. They will also be offered limo rides around the church.

This will not be last time a special-needs prom will be held at Crestview, Whiddon said. The organizers are already thinking about how to repeat the Night to Shine next year. They will have to apply to host the event again, but they are already thinking about holding planning meetings soon after the last person steps off the dance floor to improve for next year, Whiddon said.

Parents with special needs children and adults interested in attending as guests for the event can register by clicking on the Night to Shine link at www.crestview-church.org.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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