Pastor Jason Ham of Grace Community Church, with sites throughout Orange County, including Newburgh and Washingtonville, is a man with a passion for helping others. Grace Community Church will host Night to Shine 2020, on Friday, February 7, at Anthony’s Pier 9 in New Windsor. Night to Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, is a world-wide unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs.
Ham shared that a special connection with the special needs community sparked the idea and he wanted to give back to the Orange County special needs community. His congregation was just as eager to plan and coordinate the event locally. Ham said event organizers reach out to organizations that serve special needs individuals in the Orange County community to invite special guests.
This is the third year that Grace Community Church has hosted an event locally and with a growing list of guests the event has moved from its humble beginnings in Warwick to Anthony’s Pier 9 for 2020 with 200 guests expected. “Our first year we had 115 guests at our Warwick location. The event has grown exponentially over the years and the demand is so big that we had to move. You have a night where you celebrate some of the most vulnerable in our community and it’s really special for everyone involved,” explained Ham.
While Night to Shine is a “prom-like” event, guests range from about 14 years old up to 65 and older. Volunteers and the Night to Shine team play an integral role in the event from acting as buddies for guests, to photography teams, glam squads, coat takers and more running the gamut to make the night a smooth success. “Between guests and volunteers we are expecting about 750 people at Anthony’s Pier 9. We have so many people willing to volunteer for months in advance with planning the event and then on the night of just because of how awesome this event is,” shared Ham.
Ham and his Night to Shine team work with local businesses prior to the event to have assistance for guests in order to have all needs met before the big night. “Just a simple thing can be overwhelming for some of our guests so we try to work with local businesses to get support. For example, Men’s Wearhouse in Middletown offered to shut down the store so our guests could have fittings and even offered a discount to our guests. We appreciate the community support,” explained Ham.
Night to Shine guests will begin their evening by arriving at Anthony’s Pier 9 and will set out on an unforgettable adventure being treated like stars the entire evening. Guests arrive and meet their assigned buddy for the evening, receive flowers, go for a brief limo ride, walk the red carpet and have their picture taken and framed in a commemorative keepsake, visit a “glam station” with volunteer hairdressers from the community or go for a shoe shine among other offerings. “We want all of our guests to feel their absolute best at Night to Shine,” said Ham.
One of the most unique spaces at the event is the “Chill Out Space”, a designated area with sensory items. “If a guest feels overwhelmed we have a space where they can go and just take a breather and then when they’re ready go back out and enjoy the rest of the night,” Ham explained.
With multiple locations across Orange County, Night to Shine brings the Grace Community Church community together for one purpose. “For me, the coolest thing about Night to Shine is that it’s completely funded by the church and we all work together. My own experience and the teachings of Jesus made me think how are we living if we are not doing what he did. This (event) has to be the heartbeat of who we are (as a church community). I love our commitment to this event and look forward to Night to Shine 2020,” said Ham.