All Guests Get the Royal Treatment at This Prom

By ERIC ENGLUND | Feb 15, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

At proms, one of the main events is the crowning of the king and queen. But on the night of Feb. 10 at Bayside Chapel in Barnegat Township, all the guests were kings and queens, as they wore crowns and tiaras.

This prom was like no other ever seen before in Southern Ocean County, as its guests were teens and adults with special needs. The event was called “A Night to Shine,”  and for the past three years the Tim Tebow Foundation has sponsored these events on the Saturday prior to Valentine’s Day in the United States and other parts of the world. 

Bayside Chapel hooked up with the Tebow Foundation through one of its newest ministries, Wonderfully Made, which reaches out to young adults with special needs and disabilities. For 2016, the foundation held more than 200 proms in 48 states and eight different countries. Bill Beuckman, one of the local event coordinators, said the former pro football quarterback’s foundation provides each prom with financial support, decorations and gifts for each participant, and step-by-step guidance to make the prom a success.

“We had about 125 guests,” said Beuckman. “In those three hours, I never saw so much happiness, love, joy, happy tears and smiles. It really moved me.”

He said the age range of prom goers was early teens to 50s.

“We had a group of 15 people come down from West Orange because they had heard about this and thought this was something they really felt they needed to do,” said Beuckman.

He said each guest came with a “buddy” who was on hand to assist with the person’s needs.

“If you include all the volunteers and other personnel who were here, there was probably at least 400 people in the building,” said Beuckman.

All the female guests got their hair, nails and make-up done, while the males got groomed and their shoes shined. They all wore corsages and boutonnieres. All got a ride in a limo, which arrived at the front of the building to a red carpet. One person even brought prom goers in a horse and carriage.

“The looks on their faces, it was so beautiful to watch,” said Kathy Mastroddo, one of the volunteers. “As they walked on the red carpet, we all stood alongside and cheered. For many, it was probably the greatest night of their lives.”

Inside the main sanctuary, Fresh New Angle DJs were pumping up the volume with pop electronic dance music hits, along with some classics, like “The Twist.”

Dana Ring of Manahawkin said her highlight was dancing to her favorite song, Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” Two guests who were in wheelchairs, Joseph Annaaroma of Barnegat and Gary Chang of Manahawkin, smiled broadly when shown cell phone photos of them wearing their formal attire.

Other activites included a formal portrait studio, karaoke, and a room where guests could greet “Cody,” a goldendoodle (golden retriever and standard poodle mix) that is a therapy dog.

“We had him in what we call a quiet room, a place where the guests could relax a little,” she said. “They loved petting him.”

On the second floor was a respite room for family members, who enjoyed a catered dinner by the Captain’s Inn from Forked River and could view the proceedings downstairs via video screen hookup.

“What they’re doing here tonight is amazing,” said Linda Pugliese of Barnegat, whose son Joey attended. “There are so many volunteers here to help. People with special needs don’t get many opportunities like this to go out and have a great time.”

The Forked River German Butcher Shop catered the dinner for the promgoers, while the volunteers were treated to chicken sandwiches and other specialties from Chick-fil-A. 

Brian Preiser, Bayside’s director of student ministries, had quite an energetic night himself, as he was moving around from room to room to make sure everything ran without a hitch.

“It’s been an unbelievable night,” he said. “Everyone pulled together to make it a success. At first, we didn’t know what type of response we would get when planning this event, but it turned out better than we could have ever imagined.”

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