The disco ball dappling the dance floor with colorful light, the DJ unapologetically throwing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” immediately to follow Lady Gaga’s latest hit, your cramping feet shuffling back and forth in the 2-inches-too-high heels you bought to match your dress - it’s everything that your high school career has been leading to. The culminating moment after four years of grit and grind, the very pinnacle of your young adult life thus far. Your final chance to hang with your besties before parting ways for college. The scene is your high school senior prom – a night of excitement and expectations.
For many of us, prom holds a special place in the sepia-toned nostalgia with which we reflect on our high school days. But, we can say without a doubt that the Night to Shine Prom, hosted by the Tim Tebow Foundation, was an evening unmatched by even our fondest memories of high school dances. It wasn’t better because Tim Tebow himself made an appearance or because of the surprise performance by the lead singer of Rascal Flatts or even because of the beautiful venue at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Night to Shine was infinitely better because its purpose far outweighed the silly shenanigans of Senior Prom. On February 10, 2017, Night to Shine Proms took place in 375 locations around the world to give over 75,000 attendees with special needs an incredible memory to cherish forever. It’s humbling to think that we were only 2 of the 150,000+ volunteers that came together to make these events possible.
From the limo rides to hair and makeup stations to the red carpet entrance, the smile on every attendee’s face was what truly made this a Night to Shine. Everyone was dressed to the nines with smiles that lit up the room as they made new friends, tore up the dance floor, and stole the stage at karaoke! We were both matched with an individual at the beginning of the night whom we befriended as the evening progressed. I’ll never forget when my new friend reached out and held my hand as we ran towards the corsage and hair stations! We learned that one of our attendees had been an opera singer, and we discovered that our other new friend loved to dance and sing.
I think each volunteer went away from Night to Shine with an understanding that inclusivity isn’t a one night event but an ongoing effort to ensure that all spaces are accessible to all people. Many of our fellow National Health Corps-FL (NHC-FL) members have joined in this effort by volunteering on their own time with Brooks Rehabilitation’s adaptive bowling and sports clinics, such as kayaking (pictured), to create accessibility to a variety of activities for people of all ability levels.
As members of NHC-FL’s Service Projects Committee (SPC), our most recent Group Service Projects centered around this idea. With our SPC colleagues Catherine and Hannah, we orchestrated two projects with The Arc Jacksonville, a local non-profit organization helping to meet the needs of Jacksonville residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The first was with the On Campus Transition Program which helps young adults gain important skills for independent living. We were able to prepare and teach interactive lessons on kitchen safety, healthy eating, apartment safety, personal hygiene, and development to support these students. Our other GSP was a health fair and field day at The Village, a housing community developed by The Arc for residents with disabilities. Across our variety of stations and activities, we came together as a Corps to educate on stress management, nutrition, fitness, reproductive health, diversity, resisting drugs and alcohol, and personal hygiene.
The Arc’s mission is to create “a community where disability is a distinction without a difference, where individuals will have choices on how they live, learn, work, worship, and play.” Ultimately, there was no difference between the proms of our past and the Night to Shine. Both were amazing evenings of fun with friends, but what will truly make the difference in our world at large is if we can carry this message onward, celebrating what makes each of us distinct. During our service term, from the Night to Shine to our GSPs with the Arc, we hope we can turn all we have learned into improving inclusivity and accessibility in our future paths.
This blog post was written by two NHC Florida members, Rebeeca Ratusnik and Courtney Joseph.