Seymour church hosts special needs prom

Tim Tebow shares a message via video during Night to Shine on Feb. 17 at Seymour Christian Church.

Zach Spicer | The (Seymour) Tribune

SEYMOUR — Wearing a gray suit jacket with a boutonniere, a black tie, a white shirt, black pants and comfortable blue tennis shoes, Isaac Hall was ready to dance the night away.

The night was made even better with a good dance partner.

Alison Smith wore a dress, black leggings and sparkly silver shoes and had a pink and white flower corsage on her wrist.

When asked why he wanted to go to the Night to Shine special needs prom recently at Seymour Christian Church, Hall smiled and said, “My date.”

“I love to dance with her,” he said.

By the end of the night, the 150 individuals with special needs were kings and queens of the prom after receiving crowns and tiaras.

“I got queen,” Smith excitedly said.

“I love it,” Hall said, smiling.

Summing up the night, Smith said, “It meant everything in this world.”

Hall’s mother, Franny Woodall, felt fortunate to be there to witness a special night. She thanked Seymour Christian Church and The Arc of Jackson County for partnering for the event, and she also thanked the Tim Tebow Foundation for sponsoring this global event.

“I’m just grateful and touched by everybody that volunteered and the community and the sponsors,” Woodall said. “It meant a lot to me as a caregiver and a parent.”

In 2022, the church and The Arc teamed up for Night to Shine for the first time. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a drive-thru format with a virtual celebration.

This year, it was back to its original format.

Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience centered on God’s love for people with special needs ages 14 and older, according to This was the ninth anniversary, as thousands from around the world came together to honor those with disabilities.

As guests made their way into the church on Feb. 17, they were greeted at the door by Seymour High School cheerleaders. Inside, they registered and then could have their hair or makeup done or shoes shined by volunteers.

Walking down the hallway, they received a corsage or a boutonniere, stopped by a photo station and were greeted by enthusiastic people holding signs with positive messages.

In the sanctuary, they enjoyed dinner, danced to music by disc jockey Bill Elmore and visited another photo booth. Outside, they could take a ride in a limousine.

At the end of the night, Tim and Demi Tebow shared a video message and surprised guests with the presentation of tiaras and crowns.

“It is our honor to make every single one of you as the king or the queen of the prom,” Tim said, drawing a round of applause from the 300-plus attendees.

On their way out, guests received gift bags.

As volunteers cleaned up the church, Melanie O’Neal, executive director of The Arc of Jackson County, took a moment to describe the largest event she has organized.

“What pops into my head first is that God is successful,” she said. “This event is to reach people and show them the love of Jesus Christ, and that’s exactly what we did here tonight. The demand to keep doing events like this is in the proof of this evening. Look around the room. The need to do this is a very high level, and God shone through tonight.”

Two weeks and two days after online registration opened, the maximum of 150 guests was reached. At one point, O’Neal said around 30 people were on the wait list.

“For me being a self-advocate agency, to have people on the wait list, I struggled with that,” she said. “I want everyone to come and to be served and to be loved on.”

O’Neal interacts with many of the guests year-round through her work with The Arc, but what she saw Friday night was special.

“Seeking those donations, getting the volunteers, getting everything for the gift bags, it takes weeks and months, but this is what it’s all about, and that’s who we serve,” she said. “Our clients can come here and have good, clean fun that is free, it is nonjudgmental, they can be themselves. That’s what this is about. When I look out and see that they are having fun, they don’t care what any of us think about them, they are here to have fun, mission accomplished.”

O’Neal said she’s blessed to have the support of her home church, Seymour Christian, and The Arc board of directors and staff.

“It’s truly community collaboration,” she said. “It’s a lot of different moving wheels, and the end result was just phenomenal.”

She also appreciates the nearly 150 volunteers who helped in a variety of ways.

“It takes so many people to pull off an event, especially an event this size,” O’Neal said. “I humbly appreciate each and every person. They provided funding, they provided their time, they provided their talents and it is such a great collaboration. You have volunteers from all different levels of education, all different levels of income and all that is set aside to come in here and love on people with special needs, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Soon, O’Neal said her staff and the church staff will have a recap meeting to discuss what went well and anything that could be improved. She hopes to host Night to Shine again in 2024.

“Maybe next year, it has to be at a larger facility. Obviously, we’re busting at the seams all over the church campus. It was full,” she said. “I don’t know how we could not continue it. The demand is here. People are here. They want to be served.”