BRANFORD — A red carpet welcome, complete with a family and friends and paparazzi, is planned for guests attending Night to Shine 2020, an evening to celebrate people with special needs.
Sponsored by Shoreline Community Church, the prom night experience will be held Friday, Feb. 7, 6 p.m., at Bill Miller’s Castle, 834 East Main St. The event is free to special needs individuals 14 years old and older.
The evening’s program includes hair and makeup stations, shoe-shining areas, limousine rides, corsages and boutonnieres, a catered dinner, karaoke, prom favors and a dance floor. The festivities culminate in all guests crowned king or queen of the prom.
“It’s just giving them a night full of love and joy and there’s also this independence that gets to be felt for the evening as they team up with their buddies,” says Rachel Kalman, event coordinator Shoreline Community Church.
“So, an independence that they might not be able to experience the rest of the year because they always have their parent or their caregiver overlooking,” she adds. “The environment that we’re trying to build is one that’s nurturing that independence a little bit.”
The guest list will include 75 attendees, each paired with a buddy, plus an additional 100 event volunteers. In addition, local businesses and individuals are donating goods and services.
Parents and caregivers are invited to attend the event. A separate reception is planned with a buffet, raffle with gift cards and baskets, chair massages and “anything we can do to shower them with love,” explains Kalman.
“We’ve had a lot of baskets donated from different businesses in town to spoil these parents and caregivers, that the rest of the year they have quite a workload,” she adds. “So, we are taking the time to spoil the heck out of them.”
Kalman adds that Shoreline Community Church is looking forward to hosting Night to Shine for the first time.
“Who doesn’t want their child the happiest they’ve ever been,” she says. “I think the parents are going to be so happy to see their children happy and having fun. Yes, I think it’s going to be one night where they’re going to say, ‘my daughter, my son is the king and queen.’”
Now in its sixth year, Night to Shine is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. The Branford event is one of over 700 planned around the world simultaneously on Friday, Feb. 7. Elsewhere in the state, there are celebrations happening in New Milford, New Canaan, East Hampton and Wallingford.
Tim Tebow, a former professional football quarterback, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007, is currently a minor league outfielder with the New York Mets organization.
“The Tim Tebow Foundation exists to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need,” according to timtebowfoundation.org.
Bill Miller’s Castle has worked very closely with the organizers to create a fun-filled night.
“It’s a very different event than I’m used to — we do a majority of weddings,” says Victoria Smith, event coordinator at Bill Miller’s Castle.
“So, this is a fun and exciting event to put on for the special needs community,” she says. “Give them a night to come out and have a great time and be treated like royalty.”
Organizers stress that the event is only possible with volunteers and donations from many local organizations and individuals.
Donna Pappacoda, director of the Branford Early Learning Center, is looking forward to attending the event.
“I am so excited to do this,” she says. “The minute I heard about it - I knew I had to be involved.”
Pappacoda adds that her husband, Nick, her co-workers, parents and friends are all participating the night of the event.
Smith is working hard to make this a night to remember.
“I think it’s going to be very exciting,” says Smith. “We’re a very interesting building, in itself, so to have a castle for an event like this I think that they’re going to be just excited to come through the door. I just think it’s going to be a really happy event for everybody.”