College of the Ozarks hosted its annual Night to Shine event, in conjunction with the Tim Tebow Foundation, tonight, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, in the Silver Dollar City Parlor at The Keeter Center.
The prom-like event provided an evening to remember for 100 guests with special needs from Stone and Taney counties. More than 250 College of the Ozarks faculty, staff, and students volunteered — helping with hair and makeup, providing shoe shines, greeting the guests as they entered on the red carpet, and serving as “buddies” or chaperones, for the entire evening.
Night to Shine is a worldwide movement that is transforming Valentine’s Day weekend into a celebration of God’s love of people with special needs.
A special connection
Junior Emma Bachali, biblical and theological studies major, was paired with Brenna Brown.
“My guest was so sweet,” Bachali said. “As soon as I met her, she grabbed my hand and gave me a hug. One of my favorite parts of the night was when I handed her the tiara. She handed it back to me and said she wanted me to have it.”
“I love seeing our guests just light up when they meet their buddies and seeing their buddies get to know them,” said Dr. Justin Carswell, vice president for Christian ministries and dean of the chapel. “It’s almost like an instant friendship. When you see the look on the guests’ and the buddies’ faces and the reactions from their families, you see joy and life and goodness. It’s just great to be a part of that.”
Junior Andrew Ferkel, business marketing major, was paired with Tyler Grady.
“Getting to watch Grady, who is normally more introverted, cut loose and dance to the music was really amazing,” Ferkel said. “Afterwards, he said that his favorite part was when the song ‘Beat It’ came on. I loved the opportunity to watch my buddy come out of his shell and start dancing to the music. It was a beautiful thing to witness him becoming confident and comfortable with his environment to the point of dancing like no one was watching.”
“This is one of my favorite nights of the whole year. I love this,” said Lori Vanderpool, C of O nurse and clinic administrator. “If we could have the joy that they have and carry that every day, I know the world would be a better place.”
Communicating beyond barriers
Junior Johnny Cummings, public relations major and Spanish minor, was paired with Gabriel Casiano, who recently moved with his mother and sister to Hollister, Missouri, from Puerto Rico. Casiano understands only Spanish, and he does not respond except by nodding his head, snapping his fingers, and breathing heavily when he is happy. Cummings and Casiano became fast friends, despite the communication barrier.
Casiano is sensitive to loud noises and crowds, but with encouragement from his sister and Cummings, he went over to the outskirts of the prom party, and the three of them danced while remaining seated.
“Every time we made eye contact, Gabriel and I just smiled big. Then he would reach out his hand for a high five or a long handshake,” Cummings said. “I knew he was happy because he snapped his fingers.”
Kings and queens of the night
Guests for this year’s invitation-only Night to Shine event were chosen with the help of several agencies in Taney and Stone counties that provide services to people with special needs.
After the special guests were pampered with VIP treatment in the Alumni Center, they were taken by limousine rides to The Keeter Center. Crowds of cheering students welcomed them as they walked on a red carpet from the parking lot all the way to the ballroom.
Raeanne Zurn, New Hope Development and Cedar Creek director, has participated with a group of special guests all five years the College has hosted Night to Shine.
“Since I know a lot of the guests personally and work with many of them, I am so proud of them and so happy that they get all of this love poured over them by so many people in one very special night,” Zurn said. “My favorite part of being here five consecutive years is seeing the repeat buddies. Some of the people have had the same buddy every year and look forward to seeing their friends again. Some of them also keep in contact and maintain their friendships outside of Night to Shine, which I love.”
Participating agencies included the following:
- Barnabas Prep
- Chances of Stone County
- Developmental Connections/Tantone Industries
- New Hope Development/Cedar Creek Coffee
Photos from a Night To Shine Courtesy of C of O