FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - Tens of thousands of individuals with special needs were crowned prom kings and queens around the world Friday night. Hundreds of those are from around the Fort Wayne viewing area.
It's all part of the Tim Tebow Foundation's "Night to Shine."
You can watch a highlight video from last year's worldwide events below:
Each year since 2015, Tim Tebow and his foundation have sponsored and helped organize the special prom night events to honor people with special needs.
The first year, 44 churches around the world put on events for 7,000 guests with special needs.
Since then, the special event has picked up momentum and grown significantly.
You can watch a highlight video of last year's worldwide events below:
This year, more than 650 churches are hosting close to 100,000 guests worldwide.
One of those churches is Emmanuel Community Church in Fort Wayne. Shandra Hathaway, Pastor of Children's Ministry, helped organize this year's event. She said the night is all about making the guests feel special.
"Our mission is to bring love to those individuals with special needs in our community, to show them value, and to show them that they are worth being part of our community. That we need them in our community as much as anyone else." Hathaway said.
Churches in Auburn, Wabash, LaGrange, Defiance, and Warsaw.
At each prom night experience, guests start their night being treated like royalty, as volunteers do their hair and makeup, shine their shoes, and take their photos.
Then the real fun starts as each guest is escorted down a red carpet while dozens of people cheer them on.
"When those people walk through these doors, they are so incredibly excited," Hathaway said. "They know that this is a night solely for them, that this is a place that they're going to come and feel loved. They're going to come and feel special."
Guests are then treated to dinner before having the option of hitting the dance floor, singing karaoke, or hanging out with their friends.
There are also calming sensory rooms for individuals who need a little break from it all.
Night to Shine is open to people with specials needs who are 14 years old and older, making for a diverse experience for all. And at the end of the night, every single one of them is crowned prom king or queen.
"There are people here that have come who have never gone to a prom before, and we have age ranges from 14 all the way up to 60 and 70-year-old participants," Hathaway explained. "So this is their first experience at a prom, their first experience being a king or a queen."
The main goal of the event is to create a night the guests will never forget, but it's also about getting the community involved and creating opportunities for exposure and education.
It takes hundreds of volunteers and community partners at each individual event to make Night to Shine possible.
Every guest has their own volunteer "buddy" who escorts them and makes sure they're having a good time. Buddies also help their guests with any extra needs or services that might be required to keep them safe and comfortable.
There are also hundreds of other volunteers who help with registration, hair and makeup, photography and videography, coat check, food, setup, and more.
In all, around 200,000 people are volunteering at Night to Shine events worldwide this year.
All of those volunteers come away from the night with a new appreciation for people with special needs and an experience that they'll never forget either. j
Registration for guests and volunteers has already closed for the 2019 year, but the magical event continues to expand each year, and more volunteers are always needed for the next year.
You can find more information about the Tim Tebow Foundation, Night to Shine, and how to get involved here.