Every year, Real Life Church Valencia offers people with special needs an experience they don’t get often enough — to be treated as an honored guest at a prom tailored specifically for them.
On Friday, 130 honored guests were given this experience at Real Life’s annual Night to Shine Prom. Event organizers said they wanted to give the best prom experience possible, especially since many of their honored guests never got the opportunity to attend one.
“One of the things that we heard from parents of some of our honored guests is that as they get older, there’s just less and less events like this for them to do and so we really put an effort into making this an incredible night,” said Kevin Finkbiner, campus pastor for Real Life. “So to see the joy on the faces of our honored guests is one of the things that just absolutely lights me up.”
The event was done in coordination with the Tim Tebow Foundation, which hosts the prom in 39 countries across the globe.
Finkbiner said each guest was paired up with a “buddy” — volunteers who donated their time — so they’d have a chaperone throughout the night.
To start the experience, young ladies were taken to get their hair and makeup done by stylists from local businesses, Tranquility Salon and Spa and Eighth and Main Hair Lounge. Young men had their shoes shined before all of them were taken for a ride around the parking lot in a limo.
Next, they had a full red carpet experience where professional photographers and more volunteers acting as paparazzi cheered them on.
For the parents in attendance, the whole event was a blessing. Candice Russell, who was there with her son, Drew, said the event was particularly special because Drew didn’t get to have his prom in high school because his date stood him up one hour before the dance.
“This was just a blessing, it was God’s way of having a re-do,” said Candice. “I think it’s amazing. I did my research on how Tim Tebow and his family came to create this foundation and that Tim Tebow has his own dyslexia… so to me, it’s amazing that out of something that somebody struggles with, they give back to society.”
Mary Gutierrez said her son, Leo, always looks forward to this prom and loves to dance, have fun and be in a space where he can just be himself.
“It’s just a lot of fun and the amazing thing is that all of the volunteers, they understand they have the patience for our kids. So that’s a big plus that they make them feel king or queen, that’s exactly what this is about. It’s making them feel included and special,” said Gutierrez.
Event organizers said it took hundreds of volunteers and months of planning to make the night happen, but for everyone involved, the joy on the faces of the honored guests made it all worth it.
At the end of the event, every guest was crowned as Prom Kings and Queens.
“This is a night for them to be the stars. That’s why it’s a night to shine. Our friends don’t get celebrated. They’re alone a lot. They’re not included,” said John Pantellas, director of Fun Life — an organization that participated in the event. “This is a night that they can be included. They can be welcome, they can be themselves. And that’s the key — that they don’t have to worry about anything and they just be themselves and we get to celebrate them.”