There is one special night, happening every year in 721 churches from all around the world. It is an unforgettable prom night experience for approximately 115,000 honored guests ages 14 and older with special needs. Regardless of their circumstances and struggles, because of God’s love, it will be their “Night to Shine.”
While Night to Shine is an annual event sponsored by Tim Tebow Foundation happening worldwide during February, sophomore Elizabeth Lopez is bringing her own, similar, adaptive prom to the Eastern Christian community. Organized and initiated by Elizabeth, the adaptive prom will take place on May 15, 2020.
Since fourth grade, Elizabeth started volunteering at Pillar School formerly known as CPNJ (Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey). Whenever she has days off from school at Eastern Christian, Elizabeth will go hang out with students that go to Pillar. Since most of the kids at Pillar have multiple disabilities, they are doing school quite differently than what people would expect. On a normal day, Elizabeth will go to classes like karate, art, and science with the kids at Pillar in the morning. Then after lunch, Elizabeth can either do yoga with the kids or simply go around to each class and hang out with all the students.
Elizabeth was introduced to this new world when Corry, the volunteer director at Pillar, came to give a speech at her school assembly about showing compassion to kids with disabilities. Elizabeth’s interest was immediately piqued, wanting to give it a try. After asking her mom to let her volunteer for the first time, Elizabeth was hooked on the experience. “I love the interactions I had with the kids, especially how positive they stay… Seeing their eyes light up when I get there and having conversations are one of the best experiences for me in the entire world!” Elizabeth explains.
After asking her mom to let her volunteer for the first time, Elizabeth was hooked on the experience.
Abby is the girl Elizabeth has been sponsoring for seven years. Every year, Elizabeth raises money for her at an annual 5K run for their school. Elizabeth cherishes the trust and friendship over the years. A sweet moment for Elizabeth is when Abby asks Elizabeth for help when she had a crush. Or when her leg braces went off and was literally using Elizabeth as her crutches. All these instances showed how much trust Abby had in Elizabeth.
One day last summer, Elizabeth was playing adaptive volleyball with students at Pillar. Adaptive volleyball is basically regular volleyball but with a machine to serve the ball. As they were playing, Elizabeth wonders how much fun it will be if students at Pillar can be around typical teens as Pillar usually gets very few teenage volunteers. After some chatting with her mom, they came up with the idea of having an adaptive prom at EC. This event will provide students at Pillar with an awesome time being around with typical teens in a fun event but also enrich the EC community by serving students with special needs from the Pillar student body.
One important goal for adaptive prom is to build relationships between the EC community and the Pillar community. As Elizabeth emphasized many times during the interview, serving students with special needs can be full of fun and joy. Volunteers at EC will get training on how to correctly interact with kids with disabilities. Training includes different sections from how to interact with kids in a wheelchair to how to communicate to the non-verbal students. As the EC community gets little to no exposure to the special needs community, this event hopefully will not only be a one time thing but be with EC students as they go through life.
“Pillar gets little to no teen volunteers which is really unfortunate because teenagers are the most influential volunteers for the students at Pillar,” says Elizabeth.