Luke Hurldurt was excited when he received his invitation. Sitting in his first-period math class at F. W. Buchholz High School, he carefully read every word on the postcard-sized letter, and he has done so many times since.
“He has picked up the invitation like four or five times, and he can’t believe it, that he gets to go to this,” said 16-year-old Hurldurt’s grandmother, Linda Stanton. “This is a really big deal for him. He’s never been invited to a prom.”
Hurldurt is one of 101 local students aged 16 or older who will be attending Night to Shine, a special needs prom hosted tonight at Grace at Fort Clark, a United Methodist Church in Gainesville.
The event is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation and is one of 42 such events happening around the country on the same day.
The invitations were given to local-area schools, which found interested students who met the qualifications.
Holly Darwin, the event coordinator, said the purpose of the event is simple: to give these kids a chance to experience the joys of prom while alleviating the stresses that often come with it.
Finding a dress is one of the most important tasks for a teenage girl attending prom.
Katie Chronister, a 16-year-old junior who is coordinating a prom at Gainesville High School, said finding a dress is stressful. Buying a cheap one can cost more than $100; a nicer like this prom dress could cost closer to $400. With that in mind, the church held a two-hour open house Sunday afternoon for financially limited families to come pick out prom dresses, which were all community donations.
There will also be a salon for makeup, hair and nail touch-ups on the night of the event, Darwin said, as well as shoe shines, limousine rides and a horse and buggy — all provided by the church and the foundation.
There is no need to find a date. Each attendee will be paired with a buddy for the evening, an adult who has experience working with kids with special needs. However, the attendee may bring someone if he or she chooses — Hurldurt is bringing his grandmother.
There will be paparazzi to greet the attendees in red–carpet fashion, which is something 16-year-old Michael Dorman is looking forward to. He has seen some of his favorite NBA players walk the red carpet and the chance to receive similar attention excites him.
For his parents, Night to Shine is an opportunity for Dorman to experience prom without going to his high school’s prom, something they weren’t completely comfortable sending him to.
“Having the big prom at the high school makes me a little nervous, but something like this I feel good about,” said his mother, Teresa Dorman.
For Melissa Vincent, this was the only chance for her daughter to go to prom. She went by the church on Sunday to help her daughter Sarah pick out a dress.
“I can tell you that if it wasn’t for the program that we wouldn’t be able to (afford prom),” Vincent said.
Opportunities for her daughter to interact in a large social environment like this don’t come around often, and she said the memories from Friday will be remembered for a long time.
“The thing is, these kids, it’ll stick in their head and they’ll remember it,” she said. “And then out of the blue they’ll say something: ‘I remember at the dance…
’ It’s something they won’t ever forget.”