A Night to Shine honors those with disabilities as prom kings and queens

Sunday , February 14, 2016 - 1:45 PM

OGDEN — The only sight bigger than the smiles on the faces of the guests were their dance moves.

A Night to Shine prom for special needs people 16 and over hosted by the Genesis Project church brought excitement, smiles and laughter not only to those who were there to be served but also to those who were there to serve.

The church’s headquarters, HUB 801, was filled to capacity Friday night with a Valentine’s Day party of epic proportions.

A Night to Shine is designed to be an unforgettable prom night experience centered on God’s love. Similar events were held nationwide Friday night, Feb. 12,  sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.

“It’s amazing. It’s awesome,” was how volunteer Mercy Persinger of West Valley described the event. She and her husband, Stephen, both commute to attend a deaf group at the church each week. “It’s a very spiritual experience,” she said of the event.

The foundation reported A Night to Shine was duplicated Friday in more than 200 host churches in 48 states and seven countries. More than 70,000 volunteers welcomed 32,000 honored guests.

The Ogden version drew 150 guests, 200 family members and 500 volunteers. The volunteers came from many faith backgrounds and no one present appeared without a smile.

Volunteers said they wanted to host the party again and that they learned from those in attendance.

“A lot of guests are coming up and hyping up the line,” said Sammy Cox, of Syracuse, who was waiting to be assigned a date early in the evening. “We are saying we wish we could be more like that.”

She said she heard about two guests who saw each other in the parking lot and ran toward each other saying how beautiful each looked.

“I’ve already been learning and I’m just standing in line to get my date,” she said. “How genuine and free spirited they are. I think all of us will learn a lot from our dates tonight.”

The event started early in the day with guests being treated to having their hair cut and styled at Avalon School of Cosmetology in Layton.

“Tears have been in all the students’ eyes all day long,” said Britany Tynes, instructor at the school. “These are the most innocent and wonderful people to be around.”

Once there, the guests were greeted with much time under the spotlight, including a red carpet treatment, hundreds of pictures, flowers, crowns, dinner and presentations by those who told them they were God’s elect. Special attractions included a karaoke bar and a photo booth.

“The one reason we are here tonight, it’s because we believe each and every one of you are queens and kings,” said Matt Roberts, lead pastor at the Genesis Project. “We are blessed and honored to have you as part of our community. God has a plan for each and every one of you. He has a purpose that’s very special.”

Those in attendance also heard from Tim Tebow via a video presentation. The football free-agent quarterback, TV sports analyst and philanthropist told the guests they were worthy of much love and respect.

One guest, Zach Warriner, 25, of Layton, was a featured performer who sang two popular songs to the crowd, performing with professional flair even when interrupted by other guests joining him unscripted on stage.

He was introduced as an accomplished vocalist who has performed in Utah and Las Vegas for seven years. He performed in his own concert last summer in Layton, raising $1,500 for causes that support people with disabilities.

Bobby Debout, of Ogden, is a 29-year-old Special Olympian and a graduate of the Roads to Independence program. He said the event was much like a reunion.

”You get to see a lot of friends,“ he said. ”Some of my friends, I didn’t even know they’d be here.“

Another guest, Jennifer Furniss, 45, of Ogden, sported the largest smile as she entertained her two assigned dates.

”I love everything about this, even the food,“ she said. ”I want to thank them so much for this. It is fun. I’ve never been to anything like it before.“

Anne Fawcett of West Haven laughed as she watched a guest and his assigned date dancing in the aisles on the way to get a drink of punch.

”I wish we could be so uninhibited,“ she said. ”I have worked around people with handicaps a lot. They are here to test us.“

During Friday night’s event, the parents and caregivers were treated to manicures by Avalon School of Cosmetology in a back room.

”This is the first thing that I’ve ever been to that they take care of the parents,“ said Lisa Grant of Bountiful. She said her son, Garret Grant, 18, was thrilled to wear his tuxedo again that he’d worn when he was elected homecoming king at Bountiful High School last school year.

The parents said just like their children, they were very delighted by the event.

”He was so excited, he paced back and forth all day long,“ said Kristen Flandro, of Bountiful, about her son, Matthew, 19. ”I didn’t even have to ask him to shower and shave. ... This is the event of the year for us.“

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook. 

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