Special-needs population takes to dance floor on Tebow’s Night to Shine

Sheila Keithley arrives at the “Night to Shine” event on Friday at Sanibel Community Church on Sanibel Island. The annual event celebrates people with special needs and is presented by the Tim Tebow Foundation. More than 600 churches across the country participated.

Sheila Keithley arrived at Sanibel Community Church on Friday night, ready to party.

It was her Night to Shine.

The 46-year-old Cape Coral resident wore a black dress with a shimmery tulle overlay, and her host quickly guided her to a room set aside for hair and makeup. The men went to a shoeshine station.

“I want to dance,” Keithley announced.

The Tim Tebow Foundation sponsored the evening in about 655 churches around the world for more than 100,000 guests. Designed as an “unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love,” people with special needs danced, sang karaoke, ate dinner and crowned prom kings and queens.  

Similar events took place in Naples and Cape Coral. In Sanibel, more than 100 special-needs guests adorned in crystals, sequins, glitter and 1,000-watt smiles shined all night long. Night To Shine is in its fifth year, but it was the first in Sanibel.

Volunteer Dawne Strolle, of Michelle Dawn Salon in Fort Myers, greeted Keithley, asking if she wanted her hair done, then if she wanted a French braid or two braids.

Keithley decided on two braids with crystals woven in — adding even more shine to her evening. 

Strolle kept up a light banter with Keithley as she worked.

“I love Tim Tebow and what he’s about,” she said of volunteering. “I wanted to help people like Miss Sheila.”

Tebow is a former University of Florida football player and 2007 Heisman trophy winner who also played in the NFL. He is now a minor league baseball player. 

With Keithley’s hair done, Stolle asked “can I put a little hairspray in your hair?”

Keithley agreed before maneuvering her wheelchair to a makeup station manned by Shannon Chavez, 22. Chavez volunteered with her co-workers from Target, saying she loved doing hair and makeup for people.

“Do you know what you want,” Chavez asked. 

“I like purple,” Keithley told her. Soon, she had purple eye shadow, a dusting of blush and red lipstick.

“I’m gonna have a fun time tonight,” she said as Chavez held a mirror, showing off her work. She was hoping to sing her favorite karaoke song, “You Light Up My Life.”

Cole Fields, a member of the church’s youth group, escorted Keithley from the back of the church to get a white rose corsage and wait for the 28-foot black limousine that took the prom-goers to the front of the church for red-carpet treatment.

After the short ride, she emerged from the far side of the limo. A crowd, dressed in formal wear, gathered.

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“Now let’s give a great, big welcome for Sheila,” the announcer said, directing her to her buddy for the evening, Judy Peterson, the red carpet-lined ramp and a photographer capturing her photo. 

The formalities over, Peterson and Keithley danced to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” and  “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge before taking a break.

A beaming Keithley looked up at Peterson.

“Thank you for dancing with me,” Keithley said, prompting a hug from Peterson.  

Judy Peterson, center, celebrates with Sheila Keithley, right, during the “Night to Shine” event recently at Sanibel Community Church on Sanibel Island. The annual event celebrates people with special needs and is presented by the Tim Tebow Foundation. More than 600 churches across the country participated.

The crowds thronged the dance floor under lights, grooving to  “Boogie Shoes”, “Rock Around the Clock” and “The Cha Cha Slide.” 

Keithley danced with Sanibel firefighters Capt. Kevin Barbot and John Reitenbach, calling them “handsome” and giggling.

“It’s beyond what I imagined,” said Shelton Gwaltney, the church’s administrative pastor. “It’s great to see so many people who are happy and enjoying themselves. It’s a blessing to them and a blessing to us.”

Sharon Miller spearheaded the event as a church member and mother to two special-needs sons. While Robert died in 2005, Benjamin attended the event.

After a brief encounter at church with a man telling her to look into Tebow’s “Night to Shine,” they signed on and organized the evening in three months. 

While she said she knew what it would mean to the special-needs participants, she had her eye on another group.

“Look what it’s coming to mean for the volunteers,” she said. When her son  walked by, she reminded him to save her a dance. 

Back inside,  “YMCA” and the polka favorite “Chicken Dance ” closed out the evening with a pause for a recorded message from Tebow.

Volunteers each selected a crown and returned to their buddy.

“I got the prettiest one up there,” Peterson whispered to Keithley.

Tebow explained the reason for the evening.

“It’s because we love you. It’s because you matter,” he said. “It’s because God has a great plan for your life.

“I crown every one of you king or queen of the prom,” he continued “I hope you have the best night ever. I hope you dance the night away.”

Peterson put the crown on Keithley’s head. Both had smiles.

Keithley looked at Tebow on the screen.

“He’s so handsome,” she said. “This is better than Christmas. This is better than my birthday.”

Avi Adkins

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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