SHIPSHEWANA — After nearly six months of planning, Friday night’s coronavirus adjusted LaGrange County celebration of Night to Shine was over just a little more than two hours after it started. But talk to the people who put on the event and they’ll tell you that once it finally rolls around, the evening is one of the most memorable two hours of their year.
Night to Shine celebrates the community’s disabled population by inviting them to a prom-like event where hundreds of guests are treated like a prom king or queen for the night. For the past several years, hundreds of people from across the community, including people from communities, have made the trek to LaGrange County each year for the celebrations. They join tens of thousands of people in other communities across the county celebrating Night to Shine.
Founded by the Tim Tebow Foundation, and sponsored locally by the LaGrange Church of God, Night to Shine is planned and put together by a couple of dozen volunteers who find support from community members and businesses. The event is almost entirely funded through local donations.
Allisa Brown, who headed up the group that plans and puts on LaGrange’s County’s annual Night to Shine event, said this project is worth every minute she and her group of volunteers spend working on it.
“I just think that this is a gift that God’s given me, and it brings us so much joy,” she said of the event. “When this night finally gets here and you see those smiles on the faces of the guests and the volunteers, it brings us all together and brings us so much joy.”
Cars and trucks were lined up outside the Shipshewana Trading Place antique auction barn Friday night, waiting for their turn to roll through the “Shine Through” event, this year’s motorized, coronavirus safe version of Night to Shine. One by one, the northeast door of a large barn would open and welcome in another car or a truck and invite them to slowly roll past waiting and cheering volunteers manning the event. The joy is simple. Make each guest’s night special.
Cars would then exit the building’s northwest side and make a short turn to reenter the barn for lane two, and round out their Night to Shine experience by rolling past a Trine University Dance team, pause long enough to get their photo taken with three local beauty queens, get a crown or a tiara and finally a snack box before exiting and heading home.
This year, Brown said several local RV manufacturers paid their employees to spend a couple of hours auction the day before helping set up lights and other decorations in the barn.
“I just can’t tell you how much that meant to us,” Brown said.
She added that despite the recent hardships caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the list of volunteers just continues to grow and grow.
No one profits from Night to Shine. Businesses from across the community donate items, time, money, or other resources to the group. The event is completely volunteer-driven, and all costs are paid for with donated funds.
“This is all about the community coming together,” said Casey Zuver, an associate pastor with the LaGrange Church of God. The church has acted as the event’s sponsor for its entire six-year run. “This is all donated time, donated goods.”
Zuver said Night to Shine touches more than just the lives of the guests. Those who volunteer are touched, too.
“I get goosebumps thinking of how many lives we’ve touched with this program, she added. “It’s almost like going on a mission trip. It impacts us as much as it impacts those we’re helping.”