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Shining Bright

From left, senior Kara Dilts, Mutee Mays of Lima, fourth-year pharmacy student Stephanie Mitchell and senior Angie Sullivan dance together.

Students impact special needs children in 'Night to Shine' event.

The dresses, the venue and the fun date make prom a night of excitement and fun for most students. For the special needs community, it can be hard to find prom as special as everyone else.

A host of Ohio Northern University students have helped to fill that void through their participation in the Night to Shine event. The outing, which was held locally at Lima First Church in February, is part of an international event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. This year, more than 650 churches in 50 states and 22 countries were involved.

The prom gives the special needs kids the chance to have a normal prom experience without the pressure a normal high school prom brings. The outing includes a full dinner, a limo ride to the church, a red carpet, and a crown or tiara for every attendee. 

Around 160 young people with special needs attended this year's prom in Lima, and approximately 150 Ohio Northern students were involved in the evening. They included students from such areas as Greek Life, the Sigma Iota Epsilon management honor fraternity, the football team, religious life and the Department of Education.

For the students, it puts into practice ONU’s emphasis on developing graduates who are not only polished professionals but also contributing members of their communities. The ONU students  bring energy and enthusiasm to the event each year. This combination creates an unforgettable experience for the participants who attend the prom. 

“Night to Shine gives the community a chance to come together and celebrate young people with special needs. It allows the community to show these young people they are loved by both God and the community. Further, it helps the ONU students experience firsthand the impact that service has on the lives of others,” says ONU professor of sociology Keith Durkin, who helped coordinate ONU’s participation.

For Brock Martin, a member of the football team majoring in construction management, the occasion made a profound impact on him.

Night to Shine really helped me to step back and look at the big picture, that we, as Christians, are called to love others. Most importantly, I feel that Night to Shine helped me to grow stronger in my faith. I feel that it gave me an opportunity to meet so many new people and to make friendships and connections that will stay with me for a lifetime.

The event put life in perspective for business management major Jameson Curry, president of Sigma Iota Epsilon business honorary. “My biggest takeaway in terms of personal growth is to  never take anything for granted. It feels wrong to say I helped with this event because, in  so many ways, this event helped me more than I could ever imagine. It prepared me for my life after college by showing me that these are life-changing events for multiple people, and that I need to start prioritizing them that way, rather than satisfying my personal agenda first.”

Senior Daniel Rohan dances with a buddy during "Night to Shine," a prom event for people with special needs, at Lima First Church.Kiana Pinkerton, a criminal justice major, also gained much from her participation that will last throughout her college career and beyond. “This helped me better interact with countless people from numerous backgrounds, which is something I think everyone will experience in life and in their own careers. Seeing the kings and queens smile throughout the night is easily the greatest part of Night to Shine.”

Abby Jaspers, a nursing major, says, “I can’t wait to go back next year. Getting to have so much fun while making a night special for others was unforgettable. I was able to interact with so many kids in such a fun way.”

The ONU students truly make a difference through their efforts.

“My favorite memory is probably a story a group of ONU students told me,” Durkin says. “They were in a restaurant and were approached by the mother of one of the participants who just wanted to thank them for helping their son have the best night of his life.” 

Each year, the special needs community gets a night to remember, as do the students volunteers. Students are shown the importance of community and volunteer work in a fun and exciting way.