WHEELING — They say all the darkness in the world cannot hide the light of a single candle, and that will again hold true next month when the annual Ohio Valley Night to Shine returns in a special way.
The local event is part of the worldwide Night to Shine presented by the Tim Tebow Foundation, offering an unforgettable prom night experience for people ages 14 and older with special needs. Hosted locally by the Bowman Ridge United Methodist Church in Marshall County and led by Pastor Mike Piekarski, the Ohio Valley Night to Shine has garnered a great response from the community since its inception, although the COVID-19 pandemic threw organizers a curveball last year.
But when life deals you lemons, you make lemonade, and a few tweaks helped make the local Night to Shine — along with associated events around the globe that night — a big hit once again.
“We weren’t really sure what to expect last year,” said Janet Allen, spokeswoman for the Ohio Valley Night to Shine. “The Tim Tebow Foundation still wanted to do something for our special needs community, and we were on board as well.”
Instead of having an in-person prom, organizers held a two-part event last year. A “Shine-Thru” was held where registered participants could drive through an area with stations to receive gift bags and other goodies while staying safe with their families inside their vehicles. A few days afterward, the participants got to participate in a special online prom night during the global Night to Shine virtual celebration.
“We had 134 special needs guests attend the ‘Shine-Thru’ last year, so we consider that a huge success,” Allen said.
Local organizers had been hopeful that 2022 would see the return to safe fellowship and a welcome gathering for this year’s Night to Shine, but the recent resurgence of COVID cases has prompted the need to revisit last year’s format. Organizers noted that at a time when so many people have been left feeling alone or alienated, the congregation at Bowman Ridge UMC believed it was important to stand with the Tim Tebow Foundation in this way to honor the local community of people with special needs, ensuring they know they are loved.
“Your health and safety are so incredibly important to us, and we would never want to put you at risk of getting sick,” Tebow announced through his foundation.
With everyone moving forward with the plan for this year’s big events, the “Shine-Thru” is scheduled to take place on Feb. 5 in the parking lot of John Marshall High School in Glen Dale. Then the worldwide Night to Shine virtual event will take place on Feb. 11.
Registration forms have been sent out to past attendees, but anyone ages 14 and up with special needs can reach out to the church to receive a guest packet and register for this year’s event. Registration forms must be returned as soon as possible so organizers can have an accurate count of the participants.
“What’s nice about Night to Shine is it’s not just for teens — it’s for ages 14 and up, with our oldest so far being 81,” Allen said. “The special needs community is pretty close, and it seems once one guest comes, then goes home and talks about it, then that encourages others to sign up. We encourage everyone to sign up and come at least for a year to see what it’s all about. I guarantee they will have a blast and return the following year.”
This Ohio Valley event relies strictly on donations from local businesses, organizations and the community to make it a success every year.
“The Ohio Valley Night to Shine is completely funded by donations and run by volunteers,” Allen said. “We couldn’t do this without donations from churches, businesses and individuals. With that being said, our donations for the last two years during COVID-19 have dropped off quite a bit. Maybe some don’t realize that we’re still doing Ohio Valley Night to Shine, just in a different format. We welcome any size donation, and hopefully next year, we can go all out for our guests with an actual prom again.”
Anyone who would like to make a donation toward this year’s event can do so by sending a check payable to Ohio Valley Night to Shine to the Marshall County Federal Credit Union, 910 Third St., Moundsville, WV 26041.
“We certainly appreciate any donations you can offer, as they will go directly toward making the night truly memorable for the amazing community of people with special needs,” Allen said.
For more information about donating or registering for the event, call Allen at 304-650-4126, Kristi Crawford at 304-639-6573 or Piekarski at 304-815-3412.