JOLIET – On Friday night, 180 volunteers played fairy godmother to transform Joliet's Crossroads Christian Church into a Cinderella-at-the-ball experience for 95 special needs individuals.
The event is Night to Shine, a complimentary prom-like, red carpet experience for people ages 14 and up with special needs. Crossroads Christian Church, where Night to Shine was held, partnered with The Village Christian Church in Minooka to bring this international event to the Joliet area.
Night to Shine is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. This year, 375 churches and 150,000 volunteers in all 50 states and 11 countries served a total of 75,000 special needs people, said Amy Reich, a member of Crossroads Christian Church and coordinator for the event.
In an email, Crossroads pastor Matt Summers said Night to Shine gives everyone involved a chance to "walk in the footsteps of Jesus."
"Jesus lived in the margins of society, and ministered to people living in the margins of society," Summer said. "And he said to his followers, 'Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"
Reich said she learned about Night to Shine when Summers posted about it on Facebook after hearing Tim Tebow speak at a convention.
"I thought it was a great idea," Reick said. "So I filled out an application."
It cost $8,000 to host the event, Summers said. Two grants offset the cost: a $5,000 one from the Tim Tebow Foundation and a $7,500 one from The Solomon Foundation.
"They [The Solomon Foundation] told us to use the rest for other initiatives," Summers said.
In an email, Summers said he first learned about Night to Shine in the book, "Jesus Prom," written by Jon Weece, a former college classmate of Summers. In the book, Weece wrote how his church – Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky – offers a prom for special needs individuals.
"Jon is friends with Tim Tebow, and with Tim’s heart for people with special needs, it snowballed into this massive global initiative to celebrate God’s love for people with special needs," Summers said, "and to recognize their intrinsic value as human beings."
Crystal Winterroth, the Christian Crossroads Church ministry director for children in first through fifth grade, helped organize the event, both in terms of matching volunteers to jobs and planning the logistics.
Finding the 95 attendees was the easiest part, especially since some church members work with people from Cornerstone Services in Joliet and Trinity Services in New Lenox, Winterroth said.
"As soon as we said we were having it, word just spread. Everyone wanted to be a part of it," Winterroth said.
That included The Village Christian Church in Minooka.
This past summer, the missions team at The Village Christian Church in Minooka suggested the church host a similar event, pastor Nate Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson said he contacted Summers and asked if The Village could partner with Crossroads.
"He replied and proposed we assist Crossroads with volunteers this year while they host and then we would host the same event in 2018 and they would assist us with volunteers," Ferguson said in the email. "The process could not have been smoother."
After stopping at the shoe-shining station (men) and the hair and makeup station (women), the guests were ushered into three waiting limousines and taken for a ride around the block before arriving back at the church.
Each guest and his or her "buddy" (a volunteer partner for the evening) walked down a red carpet amidst the applause of waiting volunteer admirers in formal wear, who cheered them on and snapped their photos.
The guests then entered a dimly lit "ballroom" and enjoyed a complimentary dinner before being crowned as kings and queens and moving out to the dance floor.
Cindy Harvey of Joliet, whose daughter attends Crossroads Church, was thrilled and honored to participate.
"I think it was important," Harvey said. "Everyone deserves a chance at happiness."
Kathy Dolan, a member of Crossroads Christian Church, oversaw the respite room, where the guests' caregivers could enjoy a catered meal and watch their loved ones enjoy their Night to Shine on a large screen, although it was not mandatory they stay.
"Some went off to have a little time to themselves," Dolan said.
Summers feels events like Night to Shine underscores the mission churches have to serve all people.
"Churches often talk about being pro-life, and rightly so, but the followers of Jesus should be pro-life from the womb to the tomb," Summers said in an email. "As Christians, we should be pro-life for unborn babies, but we should also be pro-life for immigrants, for refugees, for people with physical needs and financial needs, and for people with special needs."