Churches Provide a Night to Shine for People with Special Needs

By DeAnn McKillips*

God works in mysterious and miraculous ways. He was front and center with every step we took in the planning and preparation for Night to Shine, a prom event for special needs people sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. Over 600 churches around the world hosted this event on February 8, and we at Norwalk First United Methodist Church (Firelands District) were blessed to be one of three United Methodist churches in the East Ohio Conference providing one. The other EOC host congregations were Garfield Memorial Church (North Coast District) and Wildare UMC (Western Reserve District).

I reached out to the Tim Tebow Foundation in September by applying for our church to hold the event for the special needs community in our area. I thought it was going to be unlikely that our small community would be chosen. Our church has been active in supporting Flat Rock Homes, a care center that provides residency and educational opportunities for special needs individuals in our area. Norwalk First’s Confirmation class is a four-time Bishop’s Cup recipient in their Race at the Rock fundraiser.

We’ve continued to search for a better opportunity to reach individuals and their families with our ministry through the years. My love for one particular special needs young man and his sister sparked my desire to raise awareness for special needs within our congregation and to bring Jason and Emma into our fellowship. I knew that this Night to Shine was just the beginning.

Little Jason was born with Polymicrogyria, but that didn’t prevent him from attending Jr. Church when his sister began attending. I still remember him slipping out of his wheelchair and laughing as I tried to put him back in. Jason has a communication box through which he can type and talk, but honestly Jason doesn’t need a “talker” to convince me to do whatever he wants.

The smile on Jason’s face and all the smiles of his friends made the entire evening of Night to Shine perfect. My special moment was when my friend and his new wheelchair could rise up to dance! Our loving congregation’s amazing volunteers filled every need of our guests. I truly cannot say enough on how every single member of our congregation contributed, from prayer warriors and financial support, to hands-on activities of whatever else needed to be done. They treated our guests and the parents as if Jesus was standing with them.

Additional needs for this event were provided by our community, from the Norwalk Police, Fire and EMS to the countless students and residents posing as “paparazzi” on the red carpet. Words cannot express the humbling feeling of the church and community coming together in droves! As the door opened for our guests, the looks of wonder turned to sheer joy and smiling faces on everybody present.

This Night to Shine was a beautiful night for our church to shine, our volunteers to shine, our honored guests to shine, and most importantly, for God to shine!

Editor’s Note: The Night to Shine is just one of countless ministries across the East Ohio Conference that are changing lives. Please share with the East Ohio Conference Communications team the ways that God is using the ministry of your local church to transform the community. Send us an e-mail at We want to tell your story.

*DeAnn McKillips is the director of Christian Education for Norwalk First United Methodist Church.