Annie’s Night to Shine

Payton (Annie’s Buddy), Annie and Elle (Annie’s Sister)

There are so many stories from “Night to Shine” 2017 that a book wouldn’t hold them – at least, not one you could lift, anyway.  And that’s just in Tuscaloosa! Multiple our stories times 375 locations, 75,000 guests and 150,000 volunteers and that’s ALOT. Don’t ask me to do the math-I just know it’s ALOT.

Night to Shine is an “unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs.” I have to say “Night to Shine” is even more than this. It’s all about God’s love before, during and after the one night event. It has been one week and a day since our Annie was an honored guest at “Night to Shine” in Tuscaloosa and LOVE still abounds.

To quote a friend “This.Man’s.Heart” Wow!

It was definitely a night we will never forget!

Just today, someone said to me – God gave him the vision and Tim Tebow acted on that vision.
Thank You, Tim!
Like I said already, God’s love was shown more than just that one night! Let me share with you a few  of our stories. We were thrilled when we found out that Big Sandy Baptist Church would be hosting “Night to Shine” with the Tim Tebow Foundation! Big Sandy is close to us and we have friends who go to church there. As word got out, more and more people I ran into told me they had signed up to be a volunteer or a buddy! Simple as that. People just loving people!
Chick Fil A hosted a “Night to Shine” Night.  The Allen family doesn’t need an excuse to go to Chick Fil A. It is a family favorite already! Didn’t think I could like Chick Fil A any more. Just after placing my order, a sweet lady approaches me. I had told my Big Sandy friend that I would like to help with the prom. She had passed that along to Rhonda Walker, who was the prom “organizer”. It was Rhonda who greeted me at Chick Fil A. We talked about the prom and her passion for the event and about my Annie being a guest. She had one prayer request – to pray about how to give the guests in wheelchairs the same experience as the limo riders, realizing that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to ride the limo.
The following morning, Annie’s bus driver, Ms. Pat(as we call her), told me that she had signed up to volunteer at the prom. She also wanted to know if there would be any need at the prom for her bus. Her bus was equipped for 3 wheelchairs. Answered prayers! Rhonda contacted the Tuscaloosa County School System through Pat and the bus limo was created. Ms. Pat and Ms. Tammy would end up providing “limo” services to all the guests in wheelchairs. But that was not enough! The bus was decorated with balloon, stars, ribbons and special lighting to make it an amazing experience!

Ms. Pat even rolled out the red carpet on the bus!

Who knew a bus could look so fancy?

In that same conversation, Ms. Pat  told me that she would like to get Annie’s dress for her. Long and some shade of blue was my only request. I gave her a size “range” because Annie had never worn such a dress. It was just the sweetest thing ever that she wanted to do this for Annie. Cue the happy tears! She also wanted to do Annie’s make up and Ms. Tammy, her bus assistant, wanted to do her hair. Now I was thinking……how sweet, but I’m not real sure just how much make up or hair doing Miss Annie would allow.
On Sunday, before the prom, Ms. Pat came by with some dresses. The one she wore was the only one she tried on. It was fabulous! No alterations needed except, of course, the hem. The dress was just perfect and so were the silver shoes! A fairly tale, for sure! One day that week, Annie came home from school with a book. She always has something (or two) in her hand and never a book, but there it was – Cinderella, of course!
Perfect shoes – just like a fairly tale!
In the weeks and days leading up to the prom, I prayed and prayed that Annie would have an awesome experience – that she would be happy and that we weren’t involving her in this event just to make us happy. I talked to her about it a lot. If you don’t know her….she is non verbal but she understands a lot more than she can express. She experiences joy and she gives joy! She has her own way of communicating.
It’s the day of the prom. We check out of school at noon. Isn’t that what other teenagers do on prom day? At school, I marvel at the Mom who is taking 5 of her children to the prom. “Last year these children were in an orphanage, tonight, they are going to the prom!” More answered prayers!

Ms. Pat, and then later Ms. Tammy, arrive for the make up and hair session. They remembered everything, even a beautiful rose and a personalized handerchief for Annie to hold in her hand. Annie goes everywhere with a blanket or two. She did not even take a blanket as she held that beautiful handkerchief instead. A blanket would have covered up that gorgeous dress. So, everything that I said Annie wouldn’t do, she did! Ms. Pat applied foundation, eye shadow, blush, lip gloss and even mascara without a hitch! Annie was all smiles! Ms. Tammy did her hair with a beautiful crown comb and some bobby pins! She never even tried to take them out of her hair – I mean not all night! And we were able to protect that beautiful dress from injury by the wheelchair! More answered prayers!

The queen’s make up session
A treasure! Ms. Pat thought of every detail!

So we leave from the prom and I’ve never seen a happier princess or 
Queen as she would later be crowned!

She knew it was a special night!

Entering the elementary school where “Night to Shine” was held, Annie was greeted by people she knew and many she didn’t know by such sweet words and lots of “oohs” and “ahs”. Then we met our new friend – Payton. Beautiful Payton had signed up to be a “buddy” for the night. She greeted Annie with the sweetest smile and away they went to the middle of the dance floor, never once showing any hesitancy in hanging out with Annie all night! A perfect match! I decided she must have been a Special Education major but no, Public Relations/Communications. She would later post on her Instagram account “Oh Annie girl you shine so bright! Wouldn’t have wanted to spend my Friday night anywhere else”. This was a college girl yall!

Welcome Party! Annie’s “people” from school!
Payton and Annie posing for photos on the red carpet!
There were so many sweet moments but I will share a few. First of all, at dinner, Annie became a bit upset from some unknown reason. In a heartbeat, a sweet friend came over to tell her it was OK and that she loved her. Now that warmed this mother’s heart! I didn’t know the beautiful guest but apparently she and Annie rode the same bus at some point. She was Annie’s true friend!

That’s a true friend!

Another sweet moment was when Joey Pike stopped his “buddy”, as she was pushing him on the dance floor, just to hang out with Annie. Then he took the handles of Annie’s chair and they were “dancing” like everybody else. Annie and Joey don’t know each other. I have known Joey since he was an infant. Joey is the inspiration for Eagle’s Wings a non-profit agency that provides day habilitation services for adults with mild, moderate, and severe intellectual and physical disabilities.
Talk about God using our special children – Wow! Joey, whose life expectancy was about 2 years old, inspires people every day and on this night, he stole my heart as he made a new friend in Annie!

No words for how sweet this is…..

Annie has an amazing group of “typical” friends at Valley View, our church. Some of those girls were volunteers at night to shine and, of course, in teenage girl fashion, there were photos!
Sweet Matti!

Sweet Emily!
You know how, on prom night, groups meet and take group pictures? At least, around here, they do! So it just seemed fitting that our Sprayberry Stars should get together for a group photo. In that photo alone, are many beautiful stories! And behind all of them are families who were so happy for them having their Night to Shine! Our Stars shined brightly!

Annie’s friends from school – our Sprayberry Stars!
Our sweet friend, Alex, actually got a “Promposal” delivered to her at school by her handsome date!
Alex and Gavin
In the days since “Night to Shine”, it has been such a joy to see everyone’s pictures, hear their stories and just smile as friends and family continue to comment on the photos from Annie’s special night! The FB, Instagram and Twitter likes are too many to count! What really matters is how God’s love shined before, during and after the event that was meant to show God’s love to individuals with special needs. One Mom commented to me, “It just felt like Jesus”. The hands and feet of Jesus were definitely busy! In the words of one of Annie’s teachers, “this should be the norm”!

The Queen is Crowned!
Tim Tebow – for loving people with special needs
Tim Tebow Foundation – for sponsoring Night to Shine
Big Sandy Baptist Church – for sponsoring Night to Shine
Rhonda Walker – for having the Passion and Organization
Big Sandy Elementary School – for sharing your beautiful facility
Tuscaloosa County School System – for sharing your bus
Pat Bruner – for making a Queen and driving the Queen
Tammy Cook – for the Queen’s hair and the fun bus ride
Elle Allen – for being there for her sister and being official photographer
Sprayberry Staff – for giving up off duty time to support your students
(Neal Guy, Jamie Evans, Traci Hollyhand, Diann Kearley)
Payton Cato – for being the best “buddy” anyone could ask for
Matti Morrow and Emily Watkins – for celebrating the night and volunteering your time
Joey Pike and Rebecca Walker – for being true friends
Chick Fil A – for donating food at the event
Publix – for the beautiful flower corsages
Every Buddy and Every Volunteer
and most of all
to God for blessing this very special night!

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