Lodi resident Paige Silva was all smiles as she walked the red carpet that lined the main hallway to Hutchins Street Square on Friday evening.
Decked out in a flowing, dark red dress, she was greeted by cheers, applause and flashing camera lights fit for an A-list Hollywood celebrity arriving at an awards show.
But the event she was attending would be more entertaining than an awards gala.
It was the annual Night to Shine, in which Silva and a few hundred special needs individuals experienced a night of fun, food, dancing and singing, made possible by the Tim Tebow Foundation and Horizon Community Church of Galt.
“It’s been the event that we all look forward to during the year,” associate pastor Kevin Brown said. “We have people from all walks of life — those who are devoted members of the church, and those who haven’t been to church in their life — all here for one reason. That’s to bring love and hope to those with special needs, their families and their caregivers.”
The evening began with guests treated to a ride around the neighborhood in a stretch limousine and arriving at Hutchins Street Square at about 5 p.m.
As they stepped out of the vehicles, onto the pavement and through the front doors, they were escorted down the red carpet, welcomed by family and friends. The event even featured “paparazzi” taking photos as the guests made their way toward Kirst Hall.
Once inside, they received the royal treatment, which included stations for women to touch up their hair and makeup, as well as booths for the men to get their shoes shined.
Once the guests received their corsages and boutonnieres, they were escorted into Kirst Hall where they enjoyed a catered dinner before hitting the dance floor to dance with their assigned “buddies” for the evening.
Lodi High School junior Claire Plath has been a Night to Shine buddy for the three years Horizon Community Church has hosted the event.
She said she wanted to volunteer as a buddy, or chaperone, for the event since attending Camp Artemis three years ago.
Camp Artemis is an annual Girl Scouts of America gathering in Santa Cruz, where Plath said she met a special needs individual who inspired her to get more involved with enriching their lives.
“I wanted to do (Night to Shine) because I have a passion for those with special needs,” she said. “Being able to provide something like this for them, and just seeing the joy and reaction on their faces is a wonderful feeling. This is the best night of their lives, for many of them. It’s just an amazing experience.”
Stockton resident Chera Lenise has also been a Night to Shine buddy for three years, and said she loves to get involved with a variety of community volunteer opportunities.
A friend, who happened to be a Horizon Community Church member, let her know about the event in 2017, when the church was first planning to participate.
The event struck a chord with Lenise, as her mother owned several residential care facilities in the Bay Area that cared for mental health and special needs patients.
She recalled helping her mother and staff care for the patients as a young woman.
“I just love being part of something bigger than me and giving those with special needs a night with no worries and full of fun,” Lenise said. “I think it’s great we get to help them got out and enjoy life. This really presents a sense of community, and it just gets bigger and better every year.”
Those guests who did not feel like dancing were able to belt out popular tunes through karaoke, or they could take a break in the respite room if they became too overwhelmed by the music and excitement.
Therapy dogs were also on hand to provide support if needed.
A special video message from former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow was presented to guests, before magician John Michael Hinton formally crowned the night’s kings and queens.
Founded by the Tim Tebow Foundation in 2015, more than 700 churches around the world hosted Night to Shine events this year, which features special needs students 14 years of age and older, experiencing the exhilaration of attending a high school prom.
Volunteer coordinator Mindy Rold, Brown’s sister, said more than 400 people signed up to assist with the event this year, and several hundred had to be turned away.
She said one of the many reasons the church loves to host Night to Shine is because it brings so many people together.
“We all need hope, love and joy, and this is something we could do to provide those things for these families and their caregivers,” Rold said. “It’s pretty emotional for many of these parents to see their kids get to do this. They have a lot of passion and joy, and a lot of gratitude.”