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Happiness is contagious: Notes from 'Night to Shine' OKC

Melody Wilson, right, dances with volunteer Dilys Donohoo during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]
Melody Wilson, right, dances with volunteer Dilys Donohoo during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]

The church just couldn't contain it all.

Melody Wilson, right, dances with volunteer Dilys Donohoo during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]
Melody Wilson, right, dances with volunteer Dilys Donohoo during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]

The joy and love and laughter overflowed at Oklahoma City's recent "Night to Shine" event.

I doubt that anyone left Putnam City Baptist Church without feeling the positive affects of all the smiles that flashed on the faces of the guests of honor who attended the prom-night experience for individuals with special needs.

The volunteers who helped make it all happen are a prime example of the evening's ripple effect.

Yes, happiness is contagious.

Sara Lyn, 17, was one of the volunteers who helped distribute prom essentials to the Night to Shine VIPs. She and several other members of the Yukon Rainbow and Mustang Rainbow organizations affiliated with local masonic lodges were dressed in their own prom-like finery to add to the festive atmosphere.

"It's actually a lot of fun. I'm enjoying seeing all the smiles," she said.

Paige Cory served as a "buddy" to attendee Dalton Harrison. Each VIP Night to Shine attendee was matched with a "buddy" volunteer from the community who helped ensure they had a safe, good time for the evening. 

Cory and Harrison were part of one of several small clusters of people who gathered just outside the perimeters of the lighted dance floor.  Cory spoke to me as Harrison enthusiastically danced with friends to "Footloose."

"It think it's awesome. He's having a great time," she said of her buddy. "He didn't want to eat but he did want to do the limousine ride and he loves the music."

Cory said she decided to be a buddy at Night to Shine because the evening was essentially a family affair. She said one of her sisters, Lindsay Pluess, 33, was one of the guests of honor and her mother Judy Pluess was also participating in the event as a volunteer.

A young volunteer Jennie Wheat, 14, said she became involved in the prom-night experience because she attends Putnam City Baptist. The Hefner Middle School eighth grader said she was enjoying the event as much as the special guest seemed to be enjoying it.

Krystal Littler gets a photo with Oklahoma State University football players Austin Hays, left, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, at right, during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held on Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]
Krystal Littler gets a photo with Oklahoma State University football players Austin Hays, left, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, at right, during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held on Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]

"It think it's a lot of fun," she said. "It's a place for them to come and let go and not worry about anything but having some fun."

Robert Miller, a Putnam City Baptist member, coordinated the recent effort which was a collaboration with the Tim Tebow Foundation.  

Friday, Miller himself was all smiles as he watched the VIPs, including his daughter Bailey, 21, enjoy the big bash planned just for them.

"It's probably one of the best proms I've ever had. It's an amazing night," he said.

The Rev. Bill Hulse, the church's pastor, said the church had to cut off registration at 300 because they had 300 buddies. He said the joined with the Tim Tebow Foundation just a little over a month before the event so they had just enough time to train and do background checks on the amount of volunteers that participated.

He said he expected to have even more buddies next year which would mean more individuals with special needs could attend could the event. Hulse said as it was, the church had to turn about 100 people away.

He said along with the community's enthusiastic response to the church's call for help with the event, he was excited that the church had the opportunity to offer a moment of relaxation for parents and caregivers of the VIPs.

Parents and guardians who brought individuals with special needs to the prom event were invited into an annex building on the church's property. There, they were treated to refreshments and an opportunity to sit and watch some of the festivities on a large screen. Hulse and other leaders spoke to those gathered about the church's long-running Sunday School class for special needs individuals, among other programs and classes offered by other metro congregations.

"Most parents spend their whole lifetime caring for a special needs adult. They never retire," Hulse said.

"The Tim Tebow Foundation began to understand this, that this was a ministry not just for the special needs adults but their parents as well." 

--

Look for the video (by Oklahoman videographer Greg Singleton)  featuring Miller's daughter Bailey as she experienced the special prom and Oklahoman photographer Bryan Terry's great photos from the event, here: OKC's "Night to Shine"

Of course, you can read my story as well. 

Like I said, happiness is contagious. Writing about "Night to Shine," it didn't seem difficult to convey a sense of that euphoria in words -- the difficult part was just figuring out where to start.

Carla Hinton

Religion Editor 

Related Photos
Krystal Littler gets a photo with Oklahoma State University football players Austin Hays, left, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, at right, during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held on Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]

Krystal Littler gets a photo with Oklahoma State University football players Austin Hays, left, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, at right, during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held on Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church,...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-fbe37e0e99358a907d9e27677326d90c.jpg" alt="Photo - Krystal Littler gets a photo with Oklahoma State University football players Austin Hays, left, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, at right, during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held on Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]" title="Krystal Littler gets a photo with Oklahoma State University football players Austin Hays, left, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, at right, during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held on Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Krystal Littler gets a photo with Oklahoma State University football players Austin Hays, left, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, at right, during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held on Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-984cff420d2b4f0197e7ce0a693b9f0c.jpg" alt="Photo - Melody Wilson, right, dances with volunteer Dilys Donohoo during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman] " title="Melody Wilson, right, dances with volunteer Dilys Donohoo during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>Melody Wilson, right, dances with volunteer Dilys Donohoo during "Night to Shine," a prom-night experience for people with special needs, ages 16 and older held Friday, Feb. 12, at Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation. [Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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