Ric Hansen could have never predicted the impact a Google search would have.
It was November 2018, and the Gig Harbor-based radio industry veteran was browsing the Internet when something caught his eye. It was about the keto diet—a low-carb, high-fat diet that has recently gained a great deal of attention and a sizeable celebrity following. Included in that following, former NFL quarterback and current Mets outfielder Tim Tebow.
He clicked. From Tebow’s diet, Ric found the Christian athlete’s book, “Shaken.” He bought it. Then, he found Night to Shine—a program created by the Tim Tebow Foundation to celebrate people with special needs. First held five years ago, Night to Shine is an annual volunteer-run, church-hosted prom night experience centered on God’s love that aims to provide a fun, welcoming environment for those with special needs. This year, more than 650 churches worldwide hosted the events for nearly 100,000 guests. Nearly 200 attended the first-ever event in Gig Harbor.
It was right up Ric’s alley. After leaving the radio industry, he started a mobile deejay company and would regularly provide music and entertainment for special events similar to Night to Shine. “I thought, ‘This is a no-brainer. This is pretty easy to do,’” he recalls.
This year, Night to Shine experiences were slated to be held on February 8. Locally, churches in Kitsap County, Renton and Olympia were hosting events, but none were scheduled in the Gig Harbor area. So, in December, Ric approached the leadership of his church, Harbor Christian Center, about hosting a Night to Shine for local guests. The church fully embraced the idea, and Ric applied to the foundation to hold the event on the February date—two months away. It was then that the reality of the event’s timeline and scale set in.
“Most people start planning in May for the following year,” he says. “We were on a crash course. It was a whole lot more than any of us thought it was going to be.”
More than a dance, Night to Shine exists to provide an all-encompassing night of entertainment—including karaoke, limousine rides, shoe shines and hairdressers—to a vulnerable population that requires extra attention, accommodation and precautions. Because of this, a 92-page foundation manual, which Ric called “overwhelming at first,” outlines the necessary precautions and need for volunteers—hundreds of them.
“It takes a lot. Every guest has a buddy for the night, so for every guest we had to have a volunteer to walk them through everything for the whole night,” he said. That doesn’t include other volunteers to provide the experiences, help with venue setup and cleanup, and the countless other logistical challenges that went into planning an event of this size.
But if there’s one thing Ric knew, it was that his community would answer the call. After a massive volunteer recruitment process and hundreds of background checks, 325 volunteers were confirmed for the February 8 event. Then the weather rolled in. A record-breaking snowstorm dumped more than 9 inches of snow in early February. The event was postponed for two weeks and nearly half of the volunteers were unable to accommodate the new February 22 date. More outreach and more background checks, and the volunteer force was restored.
On the night of the event, the team of nearly 300 strong was nervous, but excited. They had built an event, the first of its kind in the area, and now nearly 200 guests with special needs from ages 14 to 70 were expected to attend. Limousines were ready to give them the cruise of a lifetime, shoeshines and hairdressers stood by for pre-event primping, superheroes were in attendance, and the karaoke stage was set.
As guests arrived, dressed to the nines with their dates, they were paired with a volunteer buddy and guided around the event offerings. Karaoke was a hit and had a line all night, paparazzi snapped pictures, and the dance floor was full. It went off without a hitch. But the highlight of the evening for both the guests and volunteers was the crowning ceremony where each guest was crowned either King or Queen of the Prom. Preceded by a video presentation from Tim Tebow himself explaining that, in God’s eyes, everyone is a king or queen, each guest was called to the stage to receive a crown. For volunteer Nora Maharry, who also attends Harbor Christian Center, the ceremony was the “most magical part of the night.”
“They’re so appreciative,” she said, recalling the reaction of a guest who saw himself on the big screen and threw his arms in the air with a yell. “He was so happy.”
Two weeks later, Nora received an unexpected visit at work. It was a special guest who had attended the Night to Shine. “I walked up to him and he said, “Hey, I just want to tell you that my date and I came and we had the best night ever,’” Nora said. “And he also said, ‘I know that people don’t always get compliments, and my mom told me I had to come down here and tell you.’ He has the date memorized for next year.”
He’ll be returning. As will nearly all of the volunteers. Ric said that, when surveyed after Night to Shine, 90 percent said they would volunteer again. “From day one, the goal was to make this an absolute awesome night for the guests but equally awesome for the volunteers. It’s the most challenging and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Planning for next year’s event—which will be held on February 7—will begin soon. To get involved or find out more, contact Ric Hansen at email@example.com.