GRAFTON — Andrew Westover sat in a chair near the entrance of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church as Chuck Rink, of LaGrange and a church member, used a cloth to make his shoes shine.
“This is like a dream,” Westover, a student at Midview High School, said.
Across the vestibule, Katie Coleman, 23, of Elyria, sat in her chair, wearing a cape to protect her dress, and patiently waited for her hair to be curled by Marilyn Hamm of Hot Locks based in Westlake.
“We are giving her soft curls tonight,” Hamm said as Coleman watched while holding a mirror.
Westover dressed in a navy blue shirt and black slacks while Coleman wore an empire waist royal blue dress complete with silver sparkle high-heel shoes. Once the shoes were shined and the hair curled, Westover and Coleman were ready.
Transforming Westover and Coleman into royalty was part of the night as the two participated in their first Night to Shine Prom at the Grafton church.
A little more than a year ago, Our Lady Queen of Peace member Lynne Schroeder learned of the “Night to Shine Prom” geared toward people with special needs. The event is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
“I was aware that the Tim Tebow Foundation executed these proms across the country, but I did not know that if any churches in Northeast Ohio served as hosts,” Lynne Schroeder said. “I’ve known other parents who spoke highly of the experience for their own children, so I approached Father John Seabold (of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Grafton) last year to become a host church.”
Seabold said more than
50 people registered to attend the first Night to Shine event hosted by the church.
The goal, according to Schroeder, was to bring the Night to Shine prom experience closer to families not only in the Grafton area, but to Lorain County as well.
The night was extra special for Schroeder because her youngest son, Andrew Schroeder, 14, has Down syndrome.
But that didn’t stop him Friday night as he danced the night away with his “buddy” Brienne Guyeska, a sophomore at Keystone High School who volunteered with members of her volleyball team.
“Our volleyball coach (Kristin Walsh) told us about it, and I thought it would be fun,” she said.
Brienne added that everyone deserves a night to shine.
“It’s nice so that everyone can have their fun night and feel special,” Brienne said.
Schroeder said the night was everything she hoped it would be for not only her son, but for everyone who attended.
“If not for Joe Carr, this event would not have happened,” she said. “It’s been an amazing show of support from our community to embrace this event. And to see our visions come to life … it’s amazing.”
Carr, a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Peace, was humbled by the credit given to him from the Schroeders.
“I did this for Dan and Lynne Schroeder and to give back,” Carr said.
Carr admitted he was hesitant at first to help organize the Night to Shine prom, but when he saw the smiles of the participants, it made the long nights and worrying if it would turn out OK worth it.
“Their smiles … it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever done, and it turned out 10 times better than I expected,” Carr said smiling.
About 7:30 p.m., all Night to Shine participants received either a crown or tiara to wear as the music switched from ballads to pop tunes commonly played at high school proms.
As the DJ played OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” the dance floor came to life and in the middle stood Stomper, the Lake Erie Crushers team mascot, surrounded by people of all ages and abilities as they danced the night away.
And wearing a crown on his head and a glow necklace around his neck, Andrew Westover smiled and said it was indeed the best night of his life.
“Dancing is the most fun,” Andrew Westover said before turning away and engaging in his circle of friends.