A night to remember in Washington Township

Second annual Night to Shine prom to bring community together on Feb. 8

Tuxedos, dresses, corsages, boutonnieres, limousine rides and dancing — it must be prom season.

The Calvary Chapel Church in Washington Township will host its second annual Night to Shine prom for people with special needs on Feb. 8. The Night to Shine prom is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, which sanctions proms around the world.

Pastor Gary Clark described how the church prepares.

“We take our sanctuary, which seats 500 people, and we take everything out of it,” he said. “We put in a dance floor with lighting and a DJ. There’s tables for eating, but you don’t sit down unless you’re eating. Other than that, they’re up dancing for the entire time.”

Gary’s wife Valerie said the prom is for people with special needs from the age of 14 and up. Last year they had a guest who was 64 years old. She added dresses, hair styling, makeup and tuxedos are provided for attendees.

“It goes beyond just a prom,” Valerie said. “It’s an opportunity to share love with our friends with special needs, and we pour into them and let them know that they are valued and we believe God has a special purpose and plan for their lives.”

The attendees will arrive at the church at 4 p.m. After they get ready, they will be paired with a buddy. From there, attendees receive a limousine ride with a police escort around the church parking lot. Then the real fun happens.

“They enter into the building on a red carpet,” Valerie said.

“Paparazzi are taking pictures,” Gary added.

According to the Clarks, between 50 and 100 volunteers line up around a red carpet and cheer on the prom-goers while snapping pictures.

Inside the church is a real prom equipped with a dance floor, DJ, a photo booth, a sensory room, a karaoke room and a quiet room. Each guest will receive a meal to boot.

While this is only the second year Calvary Chapel is hosting a Night to Shine prom, the concept of providing for people with special needs is of the utmost importance to the Clark family. Gary and Valerie are the proud parents of a 15-year-old daughter, Alethea, who has Down syndrome.

“We decided to get involved with special needs ministry years ago,” Gary said. “I remember when Alethea was born one of the things she said was ‘my daughter, will she ever have a prom?’ In other words, you look for normalcy in things.”

The sentiment of integrating people with special needs in the church was reinforced when Gary saw a group of people with special needs performing gymnastics.

For those interested, there are a few avenues to get involved with the special needs ministry. There is the GPS class, which stands for “God’s Perfect Servant,” which takes place at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays and is for people 16 and older. There is also the “Friends for Life” group that meets every other Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. The church provides dinner, games and a Bible lesson. There are also youth groups for those under the age of 16.

The Night to Shine prom has grown from year one to year two from 123 to 154. Gary said there are roughly 500 people in attendance, including volunteers. It is Gary’s goal to grow the event to 1,000 guests — before volunteers.

“We’ll have to get a big hall to do it,” he said. “I want to see the community around us, Washington Township, pour themselves out for it. My goal is to see a whole community behind this thing. It’ll grow, it’ll take time, one day we want to see 1,000 guests come to this and see the community uber involved.”

For now, the Clarks are more than happy with the event as it stands. Valerie smiled from ear to ear describing her favorite part.

“It’s so much fun!” she exclaimed. “It’s energy galore the whole night long. It will be fun seeing their faces and excitement. Once the music starts, it’s nonstop.”

Gary added every guest will be crowned king or queen, and as a finishing touch, each guest will receive a framed picture.

When it comes to donations, Gary was adamant in saying donations made to Night to Shine go to Night to Shine.

“You can rest assured every dime that’s marked to go to Night to Shine goes to Night to Shine,” he said. “Not one dime goes anywhere else.”

Checks can be made payable to Calvary Chapel, but put Night to Shine in the memo line. Checks can be sent to 5360 NJ-42, Turnersville, NJ 08012.

For more information, call the Calvary Chapel church at (856) 302–1804.