College of the Ozarks hosted its annual Night to Shine event, in conjunction with the Tim Tebow Foundation on Friday in the Silver Dollar City Parlor at The Keeter Center. Night to Shine is a worldwide movement, celebrating God’s love for people with special needs.
The prom-like event provided an evening to remember for guests with special needs from Stone and Taney counties. More than 250 College of the Ozarks faculty, staff, and students volunteered.
“We were honored to welcome more than 100 guests with special needs for this year’s Night to Shine,” said Dr. Justin Carswell, vice president of Christian ministries and dean of the chapel. “From the red carpet to the dance floor, the night was filled with fun, laughter, selfies, and all the excitement of a prom-like event. Our guests and their buddies, C of O student volunteers, made special memories for a lifetime.”
Kings and queens of the prom
After the special guests were pampered with VIP treatment in the Welcome Center, they rode in limousines to The Keeter Center. Crowds of cheering students welcomed them as they walked on a red carpet to the ballroom.
Abby Harrison, sophomore public relations major, had the opportunity to volunteer as a buddy. This was her second time serving at Night to Shine. She was paired with honored guest Riley.
“I was mostly just trying to match her energy and do whatever she needed to be comfortable and have fun,” Harrison said. “I was focused on loving her well. I was really passionate about serving the community and loving people who really deserve to be loved but often get overlooked. I was so excited to serve Riley tonight!”
Baylor Ward, freshman biblical studies major, volunteered tonight for the first time. His reason for serving was unique, as he grew up going to Night to Shine events with his cousin who also has special needs.
“My favorite part of the night was meeting Ben for the first time. I got to see the biggest smile go across his face as I put the crown on his head.”
Trevon Hildebrand, freshman biblical studies major, was volunteering at the shoe-shining station before the event began at The Keeter Center. Steven, a regular Night to Shine participant, sat down with Trevon to have his shoes polished. When Trevon saw Steven, he remembered him from a men’s retreat put on by Barnabus Prep.
“Steven probably doesn’t remember me,” Hildebrand said. “But I definitely remember Steven.”
Loving our community
Guests for this year’s invitation-only Night to Shine event were chosen with the help of several agencies in Taney and Stone counties that provide services to people with special needs.
The night was extraordinary, and not only for the guests. Dr. Kristina Smith, director of Special Education Services at Hollister RV School District, brough seven students with special needs to the evening’s event, along with seven teachers. Their group was stationed at the far end of the foyer, and cheers could be heard from across the room! Even though their students were the first group to walk the red carpet, they never stopped bringing the love for each and every one of the guests who boogied down the aisle.
“Standing with the greatest group of colleagues, watching our students come down the red carpet, was pure and total joy,” Smith said. “Our hearts were bursting with pride as we watched them glow in their moment to shine! It’s so inspiring to watch them find their talents and share them with the world.
“I think this night was one of the most amazing nights for our students. I saw their pride, their love, and their excitement to be the star of the show and shine their greatness! They felt pure love and an immense amount of fun to have a night all about them, without a care in the world. I’m willing to bet this is one of the greatest nights of their life!”
Night to Shine launched in 2015 with 44 host churches and 15,000 volunteers honoring more than 7,000 kings and queens of the prom. In February 2023, 622 host churches and hundreds of thousands of volunteers came together to celebrate over 75,000 honored guests with special needs.
Participating agencies included the following:
• Barnabas Prep
• Chances of Stone County
• New Hope Development/Cedar Creek Coffee
• Young Life Capernaum
• Hollister Special Education
(College of the Ozarks Press Release)