Local volunteers gear up for special needs prom at Carle Place High School
By all accounts, Night to Shine is just like any other prom; there will be music, dancing and plenty of happy faces. But Night to Shine isn’t just about youngsters having a fun time; rather, the free prom for special needs individuals is meant to remind them just how much they’re loved.
Sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, Night to Shine will be held in more than 540 churches around the world, serving more than 90,000 special needs guests ages 14 and over simultaneously in one night. Now in its fourth year, the event will take place on Feb. 9 in all 50 states and 16 countries; including locally in Carle Place.
Spearheading the local effort is Carle Place’s Anthony and Carmela Bulzomi, and Cheryl Kelly, planning team coordinator and community care liaison at Beacon Church in East Williston. When Anthony Bulzomi brought the idea to hold Night to Shine to the staff at Beacon, they jumped on board, and after an extensive application process, Beacon was approved to host the event, one of only two churches on Long Island (the other is in Malverne) to do so. Since the church itself is not wheelchair accessible, Beacon partnered with the Carle Place School District to hold the prom at the high school.
“It’s such a beautiful combination of Beacon Church’s congregation and the Carle Place community and school district,” said Kelly. “They’ve all come together to put on this beautiful event. It’s a prom night experience that’s centered on God’s love for people with special needs, and we’re literally rolling out a red carpet to welcome 100 guests.”
The free event begins with a red-carpet welcome, complete with the love and encouragement of volunteers acting as “paparazzi.” Once inside the high school, guests can visit hair and makeup stations and shoe-shining areas, as well as receive a corsage or boutonnière. Limousines will also be waiting outside, ready to take guests on a joy ride around the area.
Like any other prom, attendees dressed their best will dance to the music of a DJ, while enjoying a catered dinner and commemorating the evening with photos and plenty of laughter. Individuals can also enjoy karaoke and will receive prom favors.
But there are also special considerations that make this prom different; dietary restrictions need to be accommodated for, EMTs are at the event and each venue had to be equipped with a respite room for parents and aides, as well as a quiet room for guests sensitive to light and noise. Each special needs guest must also be accompanied by a “buddy,” special ed teachers and experts who will not only enjoy the night’s festivities with the guest of honor, but help them with anything they need, such as getting food or any emergencies.
“We want it to be one unforgettable prom
night experience for them and a celebration
of the value of life.” —Cheryl Kelly
Accommodating for all these needs and making sure the prom goes off without a hitch has taken extensive planning, but Carmela Bulzomi said it has turned into a community event, with hundreds of locals stepping up to volunteer with hair, make-up, the photo booth and any other area that may be required. Sponsors and donations helped raise about $20,000 to offset event costs (additional funding came from the Tim Tebow Foundation and Beacon Church), as well as provided donations of food, tables, chairs, limos and more. Leading up to the event, volunteers also held a prom boutique at Beacon, collecting hundreds of dresses, suits and accessories to give out to attendees.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been amazing,” said Carmela Bulzomi. “We get together as a group, everything is laid out and very organized, everyone does their part. The donations and volunteers have been overwhelming. And that’s what made this a huge success so far.”
The night ends with each guest being crowned king or queen of the prom; a symbol that really sums up the event’s mission. More than just a night of pretty dresses, fun music and good food, Night to Shine is about showing each guest how valuable and loved they are.
“I would love for them to feel that they are loved and treasured and valued,” said Kelly. “So often I think our society does not place much value on them, but they are deeply loved and adored by God and we want to display that love to them. We want it to be one unforgettable prom night experience for them and a celebration of the value of life.”
Kelly noted that as the guest list continues to grow, they are still looking for vendors willing to donate food or services. To register a guest, visit eventsatbeacon.com. For more information about Night to Shine, email Cheryl@BeaconChurchOnline.com or visit www.timtebowfoundation.org.