A limo pulled up to the church doors, where party music blared down a red-carpet lined corridor. Almost a dozen people clambered out and back into the building for the dance.
Many of the passengers had never been in a limousine before, and Adelle Sloan said she was fascinated with her first ride in one.
“The inside was awesome with a lot of seats,” she said. The last dance she’d been to was her senior prom at Manhattan High School five years ago.
In many respects, the Night to Shine Dance on Friday was like most high school dances, if earlier during the year. Brightly colored dresses dotted the dark dance floor, and the dancers wore prom staples like boutonnieres and corsages. Some people sang karaoke in a room outside of the balloon-filled music area, while others posed for paparazzi-like photographers in front of red-carpet backdrops and lighting. But this event was different; it was better, mostly because it meant more.
For the past two decades, the Manhattan Parks and Recreation department has sponsored an annual prom for community members with special needs, typically partnering with local churches to host the dances.
This year, though, the department worked with University Christian Church to apply for a sponsorship through the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine program. The program’s mission is to give people with special needs ages 14 and older an unforgettable prom night experience, and more than 700 other churches in all 50 states and in 34 countries also hosted dances Friday night.
Molli Maberry, recreation coordinator, said the foundation gave University Christian Church $4,000 to host the local dance, working with Parks and Recreation and its previous experience hosting dances for the area community of people with special needs.
However, not just any party would do, and the foundation had strict requirements for the dance.
Maberry said that a committee of volunteers had to ensure that there would be at least three photographers, a videographer, a red carpet, fully catered dinner, flowers, corsages and other prom staples at the dance.
The place had to be “decorated to the nines,” she said.
But the committee found no shortage of people willing to help, and several area businesses donated things like food and decorations or services like make-up and even shoe shining.
More than 110 people pre-registered for the dance, with more registering at the dance itself, and more than 100 people volunteered to work the event. The participants were matched with buddies — volunteers who made sure the participants got flowers, went to the photo booth, and generally had a good time, Maberry said.
Student athletes from K-State helped welcome participants when they arrived, cheering as they walked down the red carpet.
A few of the students, like rowing senior Rachel Haskell, dressed in formal wear and danced with the participants. Haskell said she’s previously worked with Manhattan’s community of people with disabilities.
“I’ve loved to see everybody’s dancing and enthusiasm,” she said. “Even people who haven’t had a lot of experience working with people with disabilities got out of their comfort zones and had a good time.”
“Every single person is uniquely made and loved by God,” Haskell said. “Sometimes we only see our differences, but I think it’s more important to see the ways we are the same, in so many ways.”
Toward the end of the night, the dance organizers played a video from Tim Tebow, and the dance floor erupted in cheers for the Heisman winner.
“It is truly my honor to crown each and every one of you as the king or the queen of the prom,” Tebow told the crowd, as the buddies put crowns and sashes on their partners.
“But even more important than being crowned as the king or the queen of the prom tonight, we believe that that’s how the God of this universe looks at you every single day.”