The cameras flashed and the lights shone on the red carpet outside of Mt. Pleasant Christian Church.
But nothing surpassed bright beaming smiles on the faces of each guest as they entered the church’s Big Night Out on Friday.
Dressed in their most stylish suits and elegant dresses, they received a royal welcome to an event devoted entirely to making them feel like kings and queens.
Hundreds of people came to Mt. Pleasant to be pampered, wowed and celebrated during the second annual Big Night Out. The special event gave local residents with special needs, as well as their caregivers, family and friends, an opportunity to make memories at an event devoted entirely to them.
Guests met some of their favorite characters, from Spider-Man to Super Mario to most of the Disney princesses. They played games, picked out festive temporary tattoos and had their hair done in wild styles. Everyone got to show off their moves on the massive dance floor.
The night was designed to honor people who might not have another chance at a prom experience, said Heidi Wright, missions and outreach director for Mt. Pleasant Christian Church.
“We recognize the need for including the special needs community in as many opportunities as we can to have gatherings and be honored and loved on,” she said. “We know there are a lot of folks from here at our church who have family members or friends who have some variety of special needs. It was important we keep providing those opportunities to get together.”
The idea to create Big Night Out grew from Mt. Pleasant’s participation in the Night to Shine program. Launched by the Tim Tebow Foundation, the event was held at churches throughout the country to provide an unforgettable prom-night experience for people ages 14 and older with disabilities.
For five years, Mt. Pleasant Christian Church hosted a Night to Shine in mid-February. Attendees arrived dressed in dapper suits or sparkling dresses, walking one-by-one down the red carpet, greeted by friendly paparazzi and well-wishers.
They enjoyed a catered dinner, danced to a DJ playing popular music and did karaoke and other activities throughout the special night.
But in 2021, when Night to Shine announced they would only be hosting a virtual prom, church officials decided to create a similar event that better fit their needs, Wright said.
“We thought the folks in our community were ready to get back in person, so we decided to host our own event,” she said. “It was successful. We had a really great run with Night to Shine and the Tim Tebow Foundation, but we decided we’d move into our own season of doing Big Night Out on an annual basis.”
On Friday, more than 600 people came to the church, where they were greeted by a mob of supporters with signs cheering them on. This red carpet entrance really set the stage for the entire night, Wright said.
“It’s always such an enjoyable element. We hadn’t done that for a couple of years, and it’s just so much fun when they pull up outside and are celebrated in a really special way,” she said.
The church had been transformed into an entertainment wonderland, with balloons, signs and special lighting adding to the unique atmosphere.
On the dance floor, participants learned different dance moves — including getting a how-to in the cha-cha slide by Chris Philbeck, senior pastor at the church.
When they weren’t dancing, they could play in inflatables or take part in different games set up throughout the church facility.
Guests mingled with Captain America and the cast from “Frozen,” among other pop culture characters.
To ensure the night went off seamlessly, more than 200 volunteers gave their time to make sure everyone in attendance felt like royalty.
In turn, the entire church community came away with a special feeling Friday night, Wright said.
“There is so much joy we witness from the guests who attend. We are then in turn filled with joy,” Wright said. “Knowing that they were looking forward to it — I had conversations with guests off and on for months now — it’s an honor and blessing to us.”