Behind the scenes look at Night to Shine

Susie Keener picks out jewelry to go with her party dress. Photos by Ellen Randall & Diane Peltz

Diane Peltz
Contributing Writer

Jimmy Vanhook tries on a little bling for his big prom night.
It’s finally February and the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine for special needs guests is looming large.
This year the sixth annual Night to Shine Dance will happen this Friday, Feb. 7, at the Moss Valley Venue, formerly the Bloemsma Barn. A Night to Shine is billed as an unforgettable prom experience for people with special needs, ages 14 and up. This event would not be able to take place if not for the 184 local volunteers willing to donate their time to assist in organizing the entire event.
The serious planning for this event begins in August-September, although many volunteers work on it the whole year. Cheryl Richter and Carol Anne Elliot have been at the helm as part of the planning committee for the past three years, organizing the many details. They meet once or twice a month depending on need, at Cartoogechaye Baptist Church, along with planning committee members Sandy DeNier, Linda Hill, Lori Macumber and Kathy Smith. The theme is chosen at the first meeting and plans for decorations are decided then also. Richter begins posting on Social Media in September to recruit much needed volunteers. This year 120 guests are signed up along with the 184 volunteers.
Jacob and Elizabeth all decked out and ready for the prom.
Prom clothes are collected throughout the year from donations, and are sorted out by size and reserved for guests to try on for prom night. Items may need alterations and several of the volunteers who are on the alteration/fitting team ake them home to adjust for the guests. The volunteers keep in mind that if they alter something they may need to re-alter it again for the next guest, so they try not to cut any material. Taking up a sleeve is easily let out again when tucked in correctly. Linda Hill is the clothing coordinator, who has altered many suits and dresses.
“Working with the wardrobe, we get to see the excitement in both the girls and the boys,” said Hill.
Keeping track of the clothing is a enormous task. The items, including shoes and jewelry, get inventoried and placed into a large clear bag, labeled, and kept for next year if the guest hasn’t grown. Patty Gowen is another seamstress who works with Linda and says, “this is the highlight of the year. This is her third year volunteering. This year her family is coming from Loganville, Ga., to help out. She says it also means so much to the parents. Brenda Elliot read about the event on Facebook and this is now her second year helping out with the wardrobe.
“I read about it and I had to do it,” said Brenda.
Aside from the wardrobe crew there is a buddy volunteer group. Every guest is assigned a buddy, who helps out the guests during the prom. Buddies learn all about their guest and stay with them throughout the entire event. This assures that no guest is never without help, if needed. These volunteers also attend several meetings. They learn some general tips for communicating with guests, preventing and handling uncomfortable situations and “people first” language so all participants are respected. Their duties include providing companionship as not all guests want to get up and dance. Some like to sit and watch, so buddies sit with them. Buddies eat dinner with their guest, take them to photo ops, dance with them, and crown them King and Queen of the Prom at the designated times. Every single guest gets crowned King or Queen. They also take the guests to special areas if they want to do such things as, Karaoke, shoe shine, touch up makeup, glamour face, arm painting and limo rides. The objective is to treat the guests as if they were the most valuable and important people in the room and the intent is for them to have the most memorable time.
This Year, the Person First Services group of guests from Sylva, will be attending the event for the first time. Person First Services  provides assistance to individuals with disabilities. Several of the workers at Person First have volunteered to be buddies this year.
“It is good for them to have that moment and get all dressed up,” said volunteer Makayla Bryson. Miranda Bryson, another buddy says of the experience, “It is great to see the smiling faces, happiness and excitement about dressing up.”
The decorating team is responsible for setting up everything and decorating at the Moss Valley Venue, on the Thursday before the event. With the theme being “An Evening in Paris” this year, there will be beautiful lighting, an Eiffel Tower Backdrop for guest portraits and lighted Eiffel Tower centerpieces on each table.
Check-in teams are responsible for signing in each volunteer as they arrive, distributing their name badges, and attaching a wristband. No one is allowed in the venue unless they are on the volunteer list and have their wristband on. All volunteers are require to fill out a volunteer registration form and are given a background check before they are allowed to help. The Sheriff’s office provides the background checks for free, for each volunteer.
A food service team assists in serving the catered dishes and a parking team of volunteers, to help with traffic issues, which ensures a successful event. This year an outside heated tent will also be an addition, so that a warm and safe place will be available for the guests to take a break from the festivities when needed. As the guest list continued to grow the need for the tent grew too. A security team will also be assigned to all entrances and exits to assure everyone’s safety.
If anyone is interested in donating clothing, jewelry, shoes, ties or money email franklinnightto or message Cheryl Hart Richter on Facebook. To keep up with Night to Shine information you can join their Facebook Group: Night to Shine – Cartoogechaye Baptist- Franklin, North Carolina. They are especially in need of xxxlarge tuxes, suits, black dress pants and white dress shirts and shoes and women’s plus size dresses. They can arrange for pickup of clothing or Curvy Girl Consignment on Highlands Road is their drop off point in town. Just tell Bonnie they are for “Night to Shine” and she will hold them.
Night to Shine depends entirely on donations to fund the event every year and they could not do it without the help of other churches, businesses, and citizens in the community. All donations go directly into funding the prom.