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Columbus resident Amber Stary sent a letter more than a year ago to the Tim Tebow Foundation with a wish, not expecting to hear anything back.

But then, in the middle of a busy 2018, she got surprised by a response from the foundation. Officials told her the nonprofit of the former college football star and NFL quarterback agreed to make Columbus one of its hosting sites for its annual “Night to Shine,” a program that helps put together a prom night with a focus on showing God’s love for thousands of people with special needs around the world.

“It actually has been a dream of mine for a very long time,” said Stary, who works at Columbus’ Versatile Support Services, an organization that works to provide independent living/employment skills to the developmentally disabled.

“Night to Shine” is an evening for people 14 and up with special needs to get the full-on prom night experience with tuxes, dresses, music, food and more.

“It’s an extravagant experience,” Stary said. “They get the red carpet, limo rides, and they crown king and queen. It’s an unforgettable night for them.”

A church is required to host the function, but Stary already lined that up: 1C The Sanctuary, 2200 28th Ave., will be the site of the prom on Feb. 8.

And the students won’t have to pay a dime. It's about a $100-per-student expense to participate, however, Stary said the generosity of many people and businesses in the community have made it a free event for all. Lost Creek Elementary’s student council was one of the many organizations that helped out, as it aimed to raise several hundred dollars to go toward the cause, as previously reported by The Columbus Telegram.

But local committee members aren’t out of the woods yet. With a little more than a month to go, Stary said volunteers to chaperone are needed. So far, more than 110 students are expected to attend.

“Everyone who comes has to have a buddy,” Stary said. “So we need lots and lots of volunteers to help out.”

Although the event will be a dance, there will be a sensory room for students who might need to step away from the action for a bit. There will also be a space available for adults in attendance to relax.

For Stary, the prom hits home. She enjoys working with her students on a daily basis, but connects with them even more so because she herself was a special needs student who got help with her reading when she was younger. Her former teacher, Amber Kellen, who taught the mild-moderate handicapped program at the local middle school and for summer school, had a profound impact on her.

“She just had a passion for helping students, so I just followed her,” Stary recalled.

Kellen said she was appreciative of Stary’s kind words, but stressed the latter is a kindhearted individual.

“I feel honored, but I really didn’t do anything for her. She just had a heart for it,” said Kellen, who now is teaching students with behavior disorders in Holdrege.

Kellen said she was a few years out of college when she met Stary, recalling how the latter volunteered her own time to help other students in the summer. Today, the two remain good friends, and Kellen said she’s planning to come back to town to volunteer at the prom. Kellen praised Stary for her efforts and for writing the letter to the Tim Tebow Foundation.

“I commend her – that’s something out of my comfort zone,” she said. “To step up and reach out like that – I feel she’s just a leader. I’m proud and honored to help out.”

“Night to Shine” 2018 proved quite successful. It was hosted by more than 537 churches nationwide and in 16 countries, according to the foundation’s website.

Those wanting to volunteer or register their child for the local “Night to Shine” can do so by calling Stary at 402-910-2757 or by visiting 1C’s website, www.1cchurch.com or Connection Christian Church’s website, www.connectionchristianchurch.com. Donations are also still being accepted. Stary said she was appreciative of everyone who has or will contribute to the event in any form, noting it will do wonders for the teens the night is all about.

“I feel they don’t always get that experience. They kind of get left out when it comes to stuff like that because of some of their sensory issues – they have a hard time being in big crowds,” said Stary, who also volunteers her time with the Columbus Special Olympics program and works part-time for Arc of Platte County. “These people are the joy of my life, so I just want to do something nice for them.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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Managing Editor

Matt Lindberg is an award-winning journalist and graduate of the University of Kansas.

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