After more than seven months of planning, the Night to Shine prom finally came to life Friday night at 1C Church.
More than 190 people and 415 volunteers had the time of their lives, dancing, singing, eating and enjoying a fun evening with people who may not have had the opportunity to attend an event like this.
The special-needs prom was in its second year in Columbus, having been a success in 2019. While there were more people and more volunteers than there had been in 2019, Amber Stary, one of the co-founders of Columbus’ Night to Shine, said that there were some elements that were easier this year than in 2019.
“I feel like this year was way easier than last year,” Stary said. “We knew what to expect, so it wasn’t as tough or as stressful as it was last year. Even today, (with) all the people starting to come in, that’s when I usually get anxious. It’s actually going pretty well.
The organizers once again rolled out the red carpet, literally, with a Hollywood-style mat laid out next to the door. They also provided hair and makeup for the girls and dinner for participants and families alike.
There was even a party bus for those who wanted something extra special to go with their dancing on the dance floor. Karaoke was also something that piqued the excitement of many, with people asking Stary on social media if she was ready to sing.
“I’ve actually been asked to sing quite a bit of songs tonight,” Stary said. “We’ll see if I make it in there. I’ve had lots of messages saying, ‘I’ve been working on my karaoke skills.’”
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Her fellow co-founder, Megan Johnson, said that she was excited to see people happy to be there, doing something that they wouldn’t have had the chance to do had it not been for Night to Shine.
“From a volunteer’s standpoint, my highlight is getting to see the joy on people’s faces,” Johnson said. “You’re investing your time and energy and you hope it turns out well, and this is an event where you’re working with people who share their joy pretty well. You get to see your impact you’re having felt immediately, and that’s pretty cool.”
As a special needs teacher in Columbus Public Schools, Johnson has plenty of expertise in dealing with people who have special needs. She knows the lay of the land and has a fun time working with older people with various conditions.
“It’s fun to see older people with special needs and dream of what my students might be someday,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we can keep the event carrying on, so that someday, the kids that I’m teaching now will get to be guests at the next Night to Shine.”
The event is one that bridges the gap between young and old. On one end of the spectrum, there are high schoolers; on another, octogenarians who don’t normally have this kind of opportunity. Stary is amazed by the simple fact that this event brings forth people of all ages to have a chance to dance for one special night.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s always a place for you,” Stary said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Although she was OK with the night going well for her, Stary wanted the event to go well for the most important people of all: the guests with special needs who have a night just to themselves to shine as bright as the closest star.
“I want it to go not (as) amazing for me; I want it to go amazing for all the individuals,” Stary said. “To know that they’re enjoying themselves and to know that it’s all for them, that’s my goal.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.