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Special guests get 'night to shine' in Brighton

Francis X. DonnellyThe Detroit News

Brighton — It was difficult to say what the guests were most excited about — the dancing, the fancy duds or the tiaras that topped it off.

What was clear was that, for one night, they were the kings and queens of the ball.

On Friday, the 2/42 Community Church here hosted a prom-like event for residents with special needs.

It was one of 42 "Night to Shine" dances held across the country and sponsored by the foundation of former National Football League quarterback Tim Tebow.

"I'm elated," said Dane Russell, 50, a Howell resident with autism. "I'm a people person."

Some guests were excited about the event all day, especially when volunteers arrived at their workplace earlier Friday to primp them for the big night.

Maria Lawless, activities coordinator with Excel Employment Options, a Howell agency that employs many of the guests, said many rarely receive help from professional hairdressers.

"It was like getting a wedding party ready," Lawless said. "These girls have been to parties before but nothing like this."

The 149 princes and princesses, from teens to the elderly, were treated to a festive night with all the trimmings.

A guest arrives and gets a tumultuous welcome. The evening was sponsored by the foundation of former National Football League quarterback Tim Tebow.

They were greeted by a red carpet, photographers, a loudly cheering welcoming line of hundreds of volunteers. They got pampered with makeup and hair styling at primping stations.

The gents even had folks shining their shoes.

Among the welcoming committee was Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

"I've never seen anything like this but I love it," he said.

Calley, who has an 8-year-old daughter with autism, lauded the church and Tebow's foundation for feting a group that rarely gets to enjoy such a glamorous night.

Brothers Charlie and Lonnie couldn't decide what their favorite part of the evening was.

One answer might be what they were doing when they were rudely interrupted by a stranger: eating chocolate cake.

Charlie, who has Down syndrome, and Lonnie, who suffered a brain injury when he was born, were joined by their foster dad, Ron Windmiller of Novi.

Windmiller said he was moved to tears by the tumultuous welcome his sons and the other guests received when they arrived at the church.

Naming his favorite part of the evening was easy:

"Being served, being cared about, being made to feel special for one night," Windmiller said.

The dance drew such an overwhelming response that the Brighton church had to eventually limit the number of guests.

Other events around the country drew a similar response, according to the Tim Tebow Foundation.

The foundation sponsored a similar prom-like event last year and, after seeing its popularity, decided to offer the experience around the country, said executive director Eric Dellenbeck.

"We were certain this was an event that needed to be shared with the rest of the country," Dellenbeck said.

In all, 7,000 people with disabilities were feted at the proms in 26 states and Uganda and Kenya, he said.


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