When my friend Sarah mentioned that her church was looking for volunteers to participate in A Night to Shine, I immediately thought it was something I should do. This event is held nationwide and is a prom experience for those with special needs. It is sponsored by the Tim Tibow foundation. I’ve had quite a few friends over the years who have worked with special needs populations and I’ve felt like they should be nominated for sainthood. Surely I could help in this small way.
As the day approached, I became more excited and also a little nervous. Because I had a need for a tuxedo for another occasion, I bought an inexpensive one from a local formal wear outlet. I thought of that saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, and I wanted whomever I would host to feel like I wanted to be there.
During the day of the event, I kept reminding myself of three primary goals:
Make my guest feel comfortable.
Make it fun for her.
Love everyone there with the kind of love that Jesus would have.
When we arrived, we were placed in order by age and of the 20–30 male hosts, there were only two behind me! Still, I knew that I love to dance and generally have a youthful attitude, so I hoped it would be okay.
My guest walked down the red carpet welcome and the person in charge of assigning guests to hosts pointed to me. I was introduced to Emma, who seemed pretty young, though I didn’t know how young. (It turned out she was 25.)
Almost immediately after we started talking, I could tell this was an intelligent woman. She loves to read and told me her favorite authors. She also loves adult coloring books, reality TV, and music. She was charming in her openness. As we got acquainted, I asked her what she was like as a little girl and she said, “Loud!”
M̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶g̶u̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶e̶e̶l̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶f̶o̶r̶t̶a̶b̶l̶e̶.̶ She made me feel comfortable.
We did all of the activities: Limo ride, Glitz & Glamour station, Dessert, Karaoke, photo booth, and more. But we spent most of the night on the dance floor. She was very opinionated about what songs the DJ should play, and I think he was tickled when she visited him not one, not two, but three times to inform him about how to do his job better. She taught me how to do the Cha Cha Slide and the Whip & NaeNae.
She also enthusiastically danced with Sarah (whose date was physically unable to dance) and watching them dance and sing to the Backstreet Boys’ “I want it that way” warmed my heart.
M̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶i̶t̶ ̶f̶u̶n̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶h̶e̶r̶.̶ She made it fun for me.
The thing that stood out to me most was how many people she knew! She had ridden in vans with folks from group homes all around the area for years and greeted so many of them with warmth. She knew just what each of them liked. For a fellow who couldn’t speak and who was in a wheelchair, she rubbed his head and he could not have smiled bigger. For some of the older guests, she was more restrained but no less loving. She seemed to know what to say to elicit a smile.
L̶o̶v̶e̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶y̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶r̶e̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶k̶i̶n̶d̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶l̶o̶v̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶J̶e̶s̶u̶s̶ ̶w̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶.̶ She loved everyone there with the kind of love that Jesus would have.
As we sat and rested toward the end of the night, she told me about how her father was her best friend, and how her medicines give her nightmares, and how she won a gift card to Fresh Market.
At the end of the night, I was humbled to have had this opportunity. Emma had given to me everything I had wanted to give to her.