Up to 100 special needs students and young adults from around the District are set to attend a special prom celebration at Nationals Park this weekend.
The prom will take place this Friday from 6-9 p.m. at Nationals Park. It will be the first Night to Shine event in the District and the fifth annual event for the Tebow Foundation, a Christian foundation started by football player Tim Tebow in 2010.
The attendees will arrive at Nationals Park in limos and enter through a red carpet lined with “friendly paparazzi” and supporters. Inside, the students will have a chance to dance and celebrate. At the end of the night, every attendee will be crowned a prom king or queen.
The prom will also feature a room for caretakers – parents, guardians and teachers that care for children with special needs every day.
“It’s not just a chance to take care of and celebrate those kids, but also a chance to celebrate their caretakers,” Waterfront Church’s Lead Pastor Zack Randles said. “A few local businesses donated gift bags for the caretakers to celebrate the hard work they put in for these children.”
Randles said that support for the event from within and outside of his congregation has been overwhelming. He said the church is expecting between 75 and 100 students to attend the prom and over 150 people have volunteered to help out, including about 75% of the members of Waterfront Church.
The church, located at 140 L St. SE, partnered with D.C. Public Schools to let special needs students learn about the prom and also connected with a local chapter of Young Life, a non-denominational Christian group for teens and adolescents. Randles said that he hopes the partnerships are the beginning of a long-term effort to reach out to and help special needs students.
“As far as our church goes, I think this is going to be a yearly thing for us,” Randles said. “There is so much excitement swirling around this.”
The Tebow Foundation partners with churches to hold Night to Shine prom events in part because it hopes to build lasting relationships between churches, special needs students and their caretakers. Randles said he hopes not only to throw a prom every year, but also to work with special needs organizations in the area throughout the year.
“It’s a neat thing that the Tebow Foundation chose churches specifically, because they wanted to connect people with special needs to organizations where they could get help regularly,” he said. “Our church aims to be one that is consistently involved.”