Looking glamorous in their suits and ties and flowing gowns, the students made their way down the red carpet one-by-one, as cameras clicked and on-lookers cheered.
The big event had finally arrived — Glynn County’s first “A Night to Shine,” a prom sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation for special-needs individuals and held Friday in Brunswick.
Gilead Ministry, host of the event, had been transformed by nearly 80 volunteers into a glittering, elegant event venue. A red carpet ran from the church entrance into the main room. A photo-shoot set up stood in one corner, and a DJ kept the beats bumping on stage.
Gilead Ministry applied this year to bring the first “A Night to Shine” prom to Brunswick. More than 500 churches around the world held their own “A Night to Shine” event this past weekend.
The community then came together to make this first event happen, including the Southeast Georgia Health System, Glynn County Schools, Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority and Family Connection Glynn County.
“It’s been a collaborative,” said Bishop Kendall Shaw, pastor of Gilead Ministry.
Shaw said the prom night is just the start of more local special-needs ministries to come.
“One of the concepts of ‘A Night to Shine’ is not just to have a one-time event, but it’s actually helping establish special needs ministries in the city,” Shaw said. “So traditionally, this ‘A Night to Shine’ will be launching special-needs ministries.”
Dresses and suits were donated, and students came to pick their outfits out a few days before the prom. HelloGoodbuy, a local thrift store, donated much of the attire.
Students also had their hair and makeup done inside by volunteers before the prom began.
“Paparazzi” lined the halls, taking hundreds of photos of the students as they arrived with their “buddies” — volunteers who paired up with the students for the event.
Earlier on Friday, another photo shoot commenced in the parking lot outside the movie theater in Brunswick, where members of SOAR, a local nonprofit that serves adults with developmental disabilities, met to board charter buses to Jesup, where they’d be attending Wayne County’s “A Night to Shine” event.
About 30 SOAR members, ranging in age from 23 to 65, arrived in the parking lot already gussied up for the prom.
“A Night to Shine” proms provide individuals with special-needs with an opportunity many otherwise might miss out on in school.
“Everybody likes to go to prom and go to dances,” said Allie Pinson, coordinator for SOAR’s adult enrichment health and wellness program. “It’s that night to dress up, have fun, see all your friends. And just look nice and be able to go dance and laugh with friends.”
The event is free, but the memories it creates will be cherished for a long time.
Pinson said SOAR’s members had been talking about the upcoming event nonstop for months. One member had posted a countdown on Facebook for five weeks, and others had been discussing their outfit selections since the day the prom was announced.
“We have another guy who’s like, ‘You’re not going to recognize me, I’m going to be in a tux, I’m going to look totally different,’” Pinson said.
The events also always include a rest area for parents and guardians, Pinson said.
“It’s also a nice night for the parents, because there’s a whole different respite room that they can go in to just watch and make that networking contact too, which is huge for some of the parents also,” she said.
Christ Church Frederica gave SOAR a grant that paid for the two charter buses to Jesup. Before the group loaded on the buses Friday, everyone posed for final photos.
A couple hours later, at Gilead Ministry, attendees began to arrive for Brunswick’s “A Night to Shine.”
Once attendees had made their grand entrance, walking down the red carpet and posing for photos along the way, the prom commenced with a few high-energy pop songs that had nearly everyone on their feet, smiling and dancing.
“It’s that night to dress up and have fun,” Pinson said.