Lighting up the night

By Wayne Gates – 

It was their Night to Shine.
Young people with special needs from all over Brown and Adams counties came to the Georgetown Church of Christ on Feb. 9 to a prom, complete with formal wear, photos, and crowns and tiaras for all.
As the participants entered the room, they were greeted by a red carpet and walked underneath the upraised swords of the RULH Marine Corps JROTC.
Volunteers, parents and others lined both sides of the carpet to applaud each person as they entered.
“It feels like I’m famous. It feels great to be with other individuals like me,” said Zoe Ernst, who smiled as she recounted her entrance.
Chaperone Eli Crall was all smiles as his guest Chloe Marlow smiled and fist pumped her way down the red carpet.
“It’s very heartwarming and it’s incredible to be a part of this and experience this. It’s awesome, I love it,” Crall said.
Mike Roades, Brown County Educational Service Center Special Needs Coordinator, said “To see the kids coming down the red carpet smiling and cheering and clapping, it’s just a special evening. I think it’s great that we are taking time to recognize our students with disabilities.”
The event was part of “Night to Shine,” which was sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
375 churches in 50 states and 11 countries held prom events on the same day.
“This population is extremely important. They are a vital part of our society and they deserve the recognition and the encouragement that every citizen does,” said State Representative Doug Green.
The day for the participants actually began at Southern Hills Career and Technical Center, where the Cosmetology and Culinary students fed and pampered them with hair and nail makeovers.
“We had about 80 students that came and had their hair done. We served 116 customers in our restaurant. It was exciting for not only the students who are here for night to shine, but it was also exciting for our students at the high school to be able to serve. It was a great opportunity for all of us today,” said SHCTC Principal Guy Hopkins.
He added that his students also got something valuable out of the experience.
“They got a chance to see a student population that they don’t always get to see. They said that it was a way for them to give back, to work with other people and they were very much emotionally into the opportunity to serve,” Hopkins said.
Elected officials and community leaders attended the event, along with dozens of chaperones, parents and other volunteers.
“To highlight kids tonight and give them a chance to be just like everybody else, it’s wonderful. They are going to remember this night. Seeing the support from educators and others in the community is also really heartwarming,” said Brown County Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Danny Bubp.
As everyone filed into the church gym to begin the dance, Bubp spoke briefly along with Green and Brown County Prosecuting Attorney Zac Corbin.
“I saw tears of joy and I was fighting back tears myself. Every one of you have that gift to make people feel that type of happiness and that joy and that love,” Corbin told the crowd.
“Remember that when you leave here tonight and you wake up tomorrow, God will continue to shine through you.  He has a purpose for you and we are so appreciative that you are with us tonight. We love you and God bless you all.”
With that, it was time to dance. Many of the participants took to the dance floor as the first song began and stayed there in the center of it all.
2017 Georgetown graduate Kassidy Seigla served as a chaperone.
“This is their night to shine. It’s just the little things for them, like putting on a dress for the girls or a tie for the guys. They just feel that this is finally their night. Sometimes these kids can feel like nobody pays attention to them, but in that moment that was their time. It’s just a great experience,” she said.
Parent Sheri Gartner was also touched by what she saw.
“As a parent of a special and differently abled young man, it is so difficult to see them miss out on the experiences of life that all of their typical siblings and friends are able to experience. This event was filled to the rim with nothing but joy, happiness, kindness, excitement compassion and more than anything else, acceptance.”
Jennifer Bohrer, Special Education Director at Western Brown, was instrumental in making the event happen.
She was approached by Angela Marlow, who is the parent of a student with Down Syndrome at Western Brown. Marlow showed her a video of the event from last year and Bohrer spent two months working with Marlow and others on her own time to make the event happen.
When asked how she felt watching the red carpet entrance, Bohrer said, “I was overwhelmed with emotions. See the happiness on the faces of everyone present was amazing. I’m so proud of the community for coming together to recognize and celebrate these students.”
Bohrer also noted that life lessons were being taught among the joy and dancing.
“”My own daughter was there as a chaperone to some of these students. She said that they had more fun that night than she did at her own prom. She said that it was the first time that she ever danced with somebody in a wheelchair. So she was exposed to different experiences.”
Bohrer said that the caregiver community was also served at the event.
“This was a great opportunity for parents and other caregivers to get together and share information. I also think they made new friends. You saw people exchanging phone numbers and e-mail addresses.”
She also said she was very grateful to everyone that helped make Night to Shine possible.
“I’m very proud of the way that the community supported this. We could not have done it without the Georgetown Church of Christ and the way they rallied around this. We had so many volunteers that we had to turn people away. I would also like to thank everyone that donated money and their time to this event,” Bohrer said.
The community event was made possible financially through donations from local businesses, agencies, individual, school and church donations.
As for how the prom kings and queens felt about the event, dancer Katie Berdin put it best.
“Thank you for giving people with disabilities a chance,” she said with a smile.
Bohrer said that she hopes that the community will come together for a similar event next year.