By Eileen Haupt
Night to Shine is a ministry of the Tim Tebow Foundation, providing a prom experience for teens and adults with special needs. Each year, on the same evening, close to Valentine’s Day, hundreds of individual churches around the U.S. and the world, host these Night to Shine events, where the special guests are given the royal treatment, including a red-carpet welcome and where each guest is crowned as a king or queen. It is truly a magical event!
We are blessed to have one such event held in our area, and my 21-year-old daughter Sadie, who has Down syndrome, has been attending Night to Shine for several years now. She always has a wonderful time and looks forward to it each year. As a mom of a child with special needs, I am deeply touched by the special care given by so many volunteers, who must attend to a wide range of special needs.
The organizers seem to have thought of everything to make the evening go off without a hitch and to make it magical. There are door greeters, security personnel and policies, hair and make-up crew, corsages and boutonnieres, photographers, a red-carpet experience, a beautifully decorated ballroom, food and beverages, crowns, tiaras, which all require many trained volunteers.
There is a sensory room for those who may need a break from the crowd and noise. They even provide a “respite room” for parents and caregivers, where they are served delicious appetizers, desserts, and beverages, and a wide-screen TV livestreaming the event.
Near the end of the evening, a video of Tim Tebow is shown on a giant screen, giving a touching tribute to all the guests; and at his word, all the buddies crown their guests with crowns or tiaras.
I am very moved by the red-carpet welcome, where the guests are announced, and adoring fans—volunteers, caregivers, and parents, lined up along both sides of the red carpet—cheer for the special guests as they make their walk down the red carpet and into the ballroom.
Volunteers holding signs, with messages, “You are Loved” and “You are Beautiful” particularly struck me this year. I thought to myself, “Wow, what if all babies with special needs were welcomed into the world and greeted with the same positive and affirming messages, as these “celebrities” were being greeted?”
What if physicians offered congratulations and encouragement to the pregnant mother who has just been given a diagnosis of Down syndrome for her unborn child, instead of encouraging abortion? (It has been estimated that in the U.S., about 67-74% of babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome are aborted, resulting in about a one-third overall reduction in that population.)
What if physicians gathered a team of specialists who would work together to address any health issues the child may have? What if the parents were put in touch with other parents who have children with the same diagnosis? What if the parents were given names of advocacy organizations?
What if all of us held up those proverbial signs of affirmation by reassuring parents that their child was loved, that they are beautiful, and that we will be there to support them on this unexpected journey?
It is perfectly normal for a mother to feel fear and sadness when she learns of her baby’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. But I have heard many anecdotal stories from parents, and they almost all have a common theme: The parents quickly fall in love with their special baby, they come to experience the unspeakable joy that their child brings into their lives, and they wonder why they ever felt sad and afraid. Can we do more to encourage them at the time of diagnosis?
In many ways, the future is very bright for individuals with Down syndrome. Though there is a range of challenges that each one might face, there are many who are breaking stereotypes. There is so much more knowledge and understanding about the condition then ever before. In general, our culture is more accepting and offers so many opportunities for them to reach their potential. We need to incorporate the same “Night to Shine” attitude at the point of diagnosis, so more mothers will choose Life.
And of course, we must keep working toward the goal of making abortion, not only illegal, but unthinkable, so that all unborn babies, whether they have Down syndrome, any other genetic condition, or none at all, to be given their chance to shine!
Eileen Haupt is a co-founder of Keep Infants with Down Syndrome (KIDS) and alternate delegate from Vermont to the NRLC Board.