Under dangling lights, in front flashing cameras down a red carpet and on a dance floor filled with music, 182 guests experienced a prom of their own on Friday: Night to Shine.
Night to Shine is an event centered around giving people with special needs a prom night, and is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. This year's event was hosted by more than 650 churches with more than 100,000 guests and 200,000 volunteers across all 50 states, including Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia.
Each person with special needs was paired with a "buddy" for the evening's activities, which included a makeover before walking the red carpet, dancing and eating.
One guest in particular was able to soak in all the clapping and pictures as he walked down the carpet with all eyes on him. Joseph Castelli, 22 linked arms with his buddy, and his mother Faith Smith watched on as her child was given the chance to feel accepted.
“This is the first time I've taken Joseph to the Night to Shine, The Tim Tebow Foundation, and it’s fabulous,” Smith said. “The red carpet was really cool for them — that they clap and you know, they really feel very special for the evening. It’s not easy for them to feel special in a way that is positive.”
Castelli sometimes catches people staring at him and receives negative attention for his behavior, but this time was different. Smith removed herself from the scene as she watched her son through a glass room on the dance floor.
“It’s wild to me that I always think, you know, 'It’s nice he’s dancing with the tall blonde ... how many times as a typical boy would he have had that opportunity already? Maybe a thousand times.' So, it’s kinda nice that he gets it now," Smith said.
Growing up, Smith was able to live out the “typical” teenage life and leave the house when she became aggravated, but for Castelli, it isn’t that easy.
Smith said that one day Castelli got mad at her, went out the back door and she almost wanted to cheer. In that moment, Castelli realized that he had control over his life.
“This is a big event of those little events, but when I saw that with him just going out the back door, that was huge in my life," Smith said. "So something like this is really amazing."
Night to Shine hopes to give Castelli and others a chance to have experiences they may not have access to in their lives. For Castelli, this meant being able to enjoy the atmosphere instead of focusing on his limitations.
Smith appreciated that the 385 volunteers were able to see how much the special needs community has to offer to others.
“I always say it's like a double-edged sword,” Smith said. “There are things that hurt so much, but then the other side is that you love so much, so it's kind of heartbreaking, but then it also feels wonderful and rewarding when you have a situation like this.”
Castelli has Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause medical problems like cardiovascular disease and developmental delays. But Smith said wouldn’t take away any part of his disability. She said that is how God made her son, and more people should feel blessed.
“You have to be thankful for what you have,” Smith said. “Whether it’s abundant or limited. You have to be thankful.”
Former NFL quarterback and current professional player Tim Tebow has organized Night to Shine for the past four years. On each Night to Shine night, every guest is crowned either a king or a queen by their buddy.
“I think God really found an angel on earth in Tim Tebow because he does have the ability to do good things — to reach out and not be selfish — and there are people like him,” Smith said. “But not everyone is him, and that’s okay.”
Through Night to Shine, Castelli was crowned a king for the night, along with all of the 181 guests that were able to feel bright and important, perhaps for the first time.
"Archaic thinking is still there," Smith said. "It's still around, until someone opens their eyes and sees that there's so much value to these lives."