‘It just kind of transforms your kid’
Night to Shine prom event provides a special occasion for people of special needs
Her dark hair curled in pretty waves, Atlee High School student Brenna Fennelly perched in the makeup seat and took off her glasses. Soon, her blue eyes popped as shimmery shadow was applied to her eyelids and her lips were painted ruby red — on purpose, to match the red flowers on her dress.
She and others were getting the full pampered treatment — hair and makeup — by the stylists at Lou Stevens Studios. This was their special night and it was just beginning.
More than 1,400 people from all over metro Richmond celebrated the fifth annual Night to Shine on Friday night at the Altria Theatre. Started by the Tim Tebow Foundation, Night to Shine is a prom event for people with special needs, ages 14 and up, and organized by local churches.
According to the foundation’s website, more than 600 churches
held proms across the country Friday night, involving 100,000 guests and 200,000 volunteers.
In Richmond, it was a night of dinner and dancing and walking the red carpet, limo rides and caricature portraits, karaoke on the Altria stage and photos — lots and lots of photos. Each specialneeds guest was paired with a buddy for the evening.
Fourteen churches were behind the event, including Mechanicsville’s Grace Community Presbyterian Church. Grace Community pastor Clint Dowda, decked out in a red-andwhite heart-covered suit, said the night is all about providing an experience for special needs individuals “where they’re celebrated and honored and recognized for the value they have as people, as God’s creations.”
Participating churches raise money for Night to Shine or sometimes receive grants from the Tim Tebow Foundation. Dowda said many in his congregation are dedicated to working with the special-needs community, so “we saw it as a night to all come together around the region and celebrate.”
The first three years, Night to Shine was held at West End Presbyterian Church, but as the event grew in popularity, organizers needed a large venue that was centrally located. Plus, at the Altria Theatre, there was the “wow factor,” Dowda said, and “for our guests and our buddies and our volunteers, it feels like it fits the night.”
Midway through the night, Fennelly and her buddy, fellow Atlee student Marly Rokenbrod, stood in line to get prom pictures. This is the third year they’ve been paired together. Rokenbrod said there are a lot of volunteers from her school who participate in Night to Shine.
“The first year they just put us together — we didn’t even know each other,” she said about being paired with Fennelly, though she said she asked to be paired together last year and this year. “I think its a really fun opportunity to serve and to hang out with friends like Brenna.”
On the theater’s upper balconies, as festivities happened below, parents and caregivers who stayed for the duration of the three-hour event could grab something to eat and relax as their son or daughter partied the night away.
One of those parents, Glen Allen resident Becca Clevenger, sat with her mother, Chris Mitchell. Clevenger’s daughter, Amanda, was somewhere else, likely having the time of her life. It’s the second year they’ve attended Night to Shine. She described last year as “overwhelming” — but in the best way possible.
“I don’t even think my prom was this nice,” Clevenger joked, but turned serious when describing her surprise at just how special the experience was for her daughter and the hundreds of other honored guests.
“The feeling of joy and love that you felt — just like I felt this year, everybody was so nice and so kind,” she said.
“They smile a little bigger and they feel special,” she said about her own daughter but also the many others in attendance. “It just kind of transforms your kid a little bit.”
“Everybody was so nice and so kind . ... They smile a little bigger and they feel special. It just kind of transforms your kid a little bit.” Becca Clevenger, Glen Allen parent
Brenna Fennelly of Hanover (center left) walked on a red carpet with Marly Rokenbrod, a buddy and volunteer, as Fennelly was introduced at the Night to Shine event at the Altria Theatre in Richmond on Friday.
Martha Wooten (left) of Henrico County grinned as she watched her daughter, Emma, 15, get her makeup done by Megan Nosse, a hair stylist and makeup artist, at Glam Squad to prepare for Friday’s Night to Shine event.
Rebecca Jones danced with Ben Ford, a buddy and volunteer, at the Altria Theatre during the Night to Shine event. “I don’t even think my prom was this nice,” said one of the parents, Glen Allen resident Becca Clevenger.
Rachel DeLille of Ashland sang on the stage of the Altria Theatre during the Night to Shine event on Friday.