Dear “Dreamer” Tim Tebow,
I’m writing this letter to you as a dreamer myself, as a token of my appreciation and to say thank you.
“Wanna go to Prom with me?” This phrase is as symbolic to a high-school student as “Will you marry me?” is to an adult. It creates a magical feeling within that most of us will remember for a lifetime. A feeling that we should want everyone in life to experience, no matter the circumstance — even if that means they have a disability.
You, a famous NFL player, dreamt of a night designed for those with disabilities to experience prom. Your purpose of Night to Shine was to serve as a dynamic catalyst for churches to welcome the special needs community into their church family. In creating this event, you made your legacy to be about bringing faith, hope, and love to others; which is something I personally am very passionate about myself.
Not sure you would have ever imagined the outcomes for so many people around the world when your dream became a reality. Your reach was intended for those with disabilities, however the impact would go far beyond just the individual with a disability. Night to Shine has impacted the friends, families, and more importantly the communities. How do I know this? Because I am a friend to someone with a disability, I am a sibling to someone with a disability, and I am a community leader providing support and services to those with disabilities. We all attend. We all prepare for this night for months. We all leave this night with a grateful heart, cherished memories, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Locally in Owensboro, Kentucky, we have a sold out event of over 200 attendees with approximately 25 on a waiting list. The Tim Tebow Foundation states guidelines to host a Night to Shine event to ensure not that the night is over the top magical, but it has a message that God Loves You! A Night to Shine Event must be hosted by a church, and here locally that church is Life Community Church. The night will be enhanced with red carpets, professional photography, limo rides, shoe shining, a personal volunteer escort for the night, karaoke, and an amazing DJ for the dance floor. Not to mention the food and a crown for both the king and princess attendees.
I personally know over half of the attendees on many different levels who will attend this year’s Night to Shine in Owensboro, Kentucky. One thing I know for certain is the preparation for this night can be full of anxiety, anticipation, and more importantly an energizing spirit.
The Preparation:For the First Time
Chris was excited about Night to Shine; his prom. His ticket had arrived at the house and he displayed it in his room as if it was a trophy. He was proud of this ticket, but more importantly this ticket would become his prompt for daily processing leading up to the event. It was his way of calming his anxiety and staying focused on his excitement for that night. He would have to overcome a lot of firsts, in order to participate on that Friday night in February. Getting sized for a tux would be the first. Wearing those shiny dress shoes, instead of his routine tennis shoes, would be a first. Dancing to a slow song with his girlfriend would be a first. Walking a red carpet in the middle of a tunnel of people excited to celebrate him and just him, would be the first. Wearing a crown and declaring him King of the Prom, would be the first.
All of these firsts can be so tightly wrapped in anxiety, while those surrounding him wonder how in the world we will pull off all these firsts without a meltdown spiraling out of control. Those supporting him (including myself) put on our “game face” and gear up for embracing every turn of unexpected events, because if we can get him through the night, it will be a memory he will cherish for a lifetime. When the night came for him to be crowned, we all won. It was not just a first for him, but a first for all of us that just helped him to enjoy this special night. That moment could have stood still for a second longer, just so we could have cherished the pride he held in his shoulders, the spirit that was radiant from his heart, and the love in his eyes. This moment was cherished. Thank you, Tim Tebow.
When it comes to my brother, he was fortunate enough to go to several high school proms. He is now 37 years old and hasn’t experienced an event like this in over 20 years. An event he would be surrounded with his friends. An event to which he would look forward. An event that would motivate him to get off the couch and step away from his PlayStation. You gave him joy. Thank you, Tim Tebow.
I saw her nervous as she looked at me searching for the right words to have him try on the tux and raise his arms for a measurement. I looked at her and said, “You’re fine, I will help you. This is new to him and we will get him through it together.” She noticed how I redirected his attention to the songs he would dance to that night, she did the same as she took the first measurement. Her shoulders became relaxed after the neck circumference was conquered. Next, it was time for Chris to raise his arms out to his side. She gave the command and he didn’t move. He understood, but she talked so fast and the lights in there were so bright, it was too much for him to process at that moment. She looked at me. I stood in front of her and held my arms out next to me, acting out what she wanted Chris to do. I said to Chris, “Do this”. He held his arms out to the side. She looked in amazement, as she was dying to ask me, “How did you do that?” Instead she took the measurement. Next, it was time for him to try on his shoes to ensure the right size would be ordered. She didn’t hesitate or look at me. She looked at Chris, took her shoes off and slipped on the shiny, black dress shoes. She never said a word, and he watched her. She removed the shiny, black shoes from her feet to place them next to him and say, “Your turn.” Chris sat down on the chair, and slipped on the very same shiny, black shoes. No words were spoken. He did it. Before walking out of that bridal shop, I turned back to this young lady and gave her a high-five. She smiled. Again, no words were spoken . This young lady will forever be impacted and able to support the next individual who might need a slightly different approach to tasks. Thank you, Tim Tebow.
The dance floor just played “Cupid Shuffle”, but the college football player volunteer and his 57-year-old date, Denise, was sitting in the lobby surrounded by the medical team (which again was volunteering their time). I was called to the lobby, because I am Denise’s emergency contact as a provider of services. She attends the adult day training program at Puzzle Pieces, the non-profit organization I created centered around my dreams for my brother. Denise had that sparkle in her eye when she saw me, the sparkle only someone very close to her would know. Her “rapid” heart rate was her fun game tactic of squeezing another Coke out of the cute college football player. After making sure that was in fact the case, I looked at that scared to death, but cute, young man. I said just take her by the hand and say, “Let’s go dance.” He did just that. She went with him. I trailed behind just in sight, more so he would not feel alone. They headed to the dance floor and I lost sight among the sea of people dancing and singing to the top of their lungs. Approximately 30 minutes had passed and I saw them sitting at a table, and he was bringing her a cup of ice water. He made eye contact with me, and with a proud confident voice said, “We danced to two songs!” Denise yelled out and said, “My date is a cutie!” I smiled. The volunteer college football player experienced a greater feeling of pride than winning any football game. Thank you, Tim Tebow.
The parents being able to walk into an adjacent room knowing their child is having the time of their life on the other side of the door. For the first time they smile and walk away. Of course they always linger and sneak a peek, not because they are worried, but so they too can see the happiness of their child dancing the night away. For the first time parents see the volumes of support, love, and acceptance in that moment from the community volunteers. Thank you, Tim Tebow.
With your event, Tim Tebow, you have impacted more than those with disabilities. You impacted a future of understanding, which in return could affect the promises of acceptance and inclusion in communities across the world. Night to Shine is more than just a prom for those with disabilities, it’s an event full of people experiencing their “firsts,” small wins, and a showcase of love and acceptance for all. As a teacher, caretaker, sibling, and community leader supporting those with disabilities, I say thank you, Tim Tebow.