After they posed for a photo with UF’s Albert and Alberta, people of all ages walked down a red carpet at Friday’s Night to Shine, a prom for people with special needs.
Each time volunteer Chuck Wise announced a guest’s name, lights flashed as more than 20 journalists and volunteer paparazzi took photos.
“The king of prom has arrived,” said someone from the crowd.
“I love that dress,” another paparazzo said.
The Tim Tebow Foundation started the international event last year, and Grace at Fort Clarke United Methodist Church hosted Friday’s dance for the second year in a row.
Wise, the church’s former youth minister for 20 years, grinned and clapped as he introduced more than 100 guests, who each wore a tiara or crown.
“Watching them come up the red carpet, and watching their faces while all dressed up and all this attention being paid to them — it’s just fun,” he said.
Wise said he retired from the church in February 2015. He and his wife, Gail, returned for the prom, which he described as magical.
“We have people go all over the world, building wells and houses,” Wise said. “But I heard a number of people say, ‘This is the best thing we’ve ever done.’”
When the distinguished guests weren’t dancing to songs such as “YMCA,” they ate dinner from Chuy’s Tex-Mex and sang karaoke. Outside, limos offered rides around the neighborhood.
Throughout the night, volunteer “buddies” accompanied each guest.
Volunteer Morgan Lockhart, a High Springs resident, accompanied Bianca, 15.
“I have some flip-flops hidden in my bag in case my feet start to hurt,” Lockhart said.”The first thing she (Bianca) told me was, ‘I love to dance.’”
Jamie Estaver, 18, danced in her purple gown and tiara. Her mother, Rosa Estaver, said Jamie picked out her dress and shoes.
“Makeup was huge, so she bought a lot of makeup,” Rosa Estaver said. “She did her own makeup. She’s great at that.”
Kristen Thompson, the event’s marketing coordinator, said the prom was even better than expected.
Night to Shine has grown to 200 churches in seven countries, which simultaneously host about 32,000 guests with the help of more than 70,000 volunteers, she said.
Thompson said she hopes the event becomes synonymous with Valentine’s Day.
“The Tim Tebow Foundation has always wanted to transform Valentine’s Day weekend from a weekend of love to a weekend of God’s love for people with special needs,” she said.