The smiles were contagious. Their thrill and surprise was clearly seen. Most of the honored guests, many dressed up in fancy gowns or tuxes, proudly strutted down the red carpet. Some happily danced their way down to the upbeat music playing, or twirled in happiness. A few walked shyly, while others gave high fives to the welcoming crowd at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi on Friday night. For the third year in a row, Galt’s Horizon Community Church hosted Night to Shine NorCal (NTS) for 170 guests with Special Needs.

Night to Shine, created by the Tim Tebow Foundation, is committed to celebrating people with Special Needs. The evening is an unforgettable Prom Night experience, centered on God’s love.

Feb. 7 was its sixth anniversary when 721 churches, across all 50 states and in 34 countries around the world, came together to host Night to Shine for over 115,000 honored guests through the support of 215,000 volunteers.

“As parents, it is hard to express enough appreciation for all the time and effort it takes to organize this event,” said Mark Lubich of Galt.

Mark and Kim Lubich are the parents of Kevin, 29, who was born missing a part of a chromosome, which renders him mentally delayed.

“This is an evening when Kevin receives unconditional acceptance for who he is,” Lubich said. “The fun and excitement he has at Night to Shine remains with him well beyond the event.”

Each royal guest is matched up with a “buddy”, their date for the evening, arriving to the event in limousines, and welcomed down the lengthy red carpet, flanked by a waving and cheering crowd, which included the Galt High School cheerleaders.

Some parents were able to watch the arrival of their child, many overwhelmed with tears of joy.

The guests were then escorted to the large decorated ballroom, where dinner and dessert was provided.

One of the busier activities of the night was the Karaoke room. A ‘quiet room’ was also provided for some needed rest. A fun photo booth with pictures to take home was also a popular attraction.

Therapy dogs and their handlers roamed, receiving much love and affection.

In a room just across the hallway, parents and caregivers were provided with a relaxing evening of a catered dinner and dessert, entertainment, relaxing chair massages, and raffle prizes, while a live video feed played so they could catch a glimpse of their child.

Magician John Michael Hinton provided amazing illusions all evening for the guests, as well as in the caregiver’s room.

Months of planning, communication and special training go into this one evening. Thanks go out to Tami Anstess of Galt for handling the many administrative details.

Co-project managers, sister and brother team Mindi Rold and Kevin Brown of Galt, worked alongside the 240+ volunteers.

“Every year, NTS moves me in a way nothing else has been able to do,” Brown said. “My heart fills up with so much love and humbles me in such a way that our honored guests don’t even know the impact their smiles and presence have in my heart!”

According to their Fitbit watches, Brown walked the equivalent of 12 miles that day, only to find out that his sister Mindi had walked the equivalent of 26 miles, a half marathon, on Friday, leading up to and during the event.

“It’s a night of unity and pure joy, something our world needs right now,” Rold said. “I have amazing gratitude for all the buddies and volunteers who step up to serve. We always have to turn away help, and this year we had over 100 new volunteers.”

One guest, who was able to attend for the last three years with the same buddy, had recently lost his mother, just two weeks previous.

His grandparents were able to attend, and expressed appreciation for some added enjoyment during an extremely difficult time in their lives.

At the end of the evening, a special video message from Tim Tebow was played. The guests were then crowned with either a dainty tiara or manly crown. Tim Stevenson, pastor at Horizon Church, gave a few words of encouragement and a prayer of blessing.

Kayla Westby of Lodi expressed her enjoyment in being one of the 187 buddies. Jake was her date for the evening.

“I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that God chose me to be able to experience such joy at Night to Shine,” Westby said. “Every moment was meant for Jake to feel like a king, and God chose me to share that with him!”

Westby said that she would never forget her first buddy experience.

“Seeing Jake’s smile, I left with my head high and my heart full.”

Night to Shine 2021 is planned for Feb. 12. For more information, go to www.timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine, www.nighttoshinenorcal.com or www.horizonweb.org.

Pictures and videos from this year’s local event can be found on Facebook at Night To Shine Norcal.