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A night to shine: Proctor High School hosts prom for people with special needs

Barb Carlson (center) of Hermantown is escorted by Marie Kleinschmidt (left) of Duluth and Joe Huiras while walking into Proctor High School on Friday for Night to Shine, a prom for people with special needs. (Clint Austin / / 2
Donte Taylor of Carlton poses as Cassie Letourneau of Duluth takes a picture at Proctor High School on Friday for Night to Shine, a prom for people with special needs. (Clint Austin / / 2

A girl exited a limo in a blue prom dress and made her way into Proctor High School under arches lit in blue and white lights on Friday night. Once inside the school, she walked the red carpet to applause and cheers with her mother at her side. At the end, she turned to wave at the crowd, received a kiss on her cheek from her father and smiled for a photo.

A boy then made his way down the red carpet as his mother snapped photos of him, followed by a girl who grinned at the cheering crowd for the entire walk.

The arrivals continued as a mother, dressed in a gown with a corsage on her wrist, walked with her son, dressed in a suit. Her arm around her son, she held back tears as the crowd cheered for him.

Friday's festivities were part of Night to Shine, a prom for people with special needs that volunteers have been organizing for months. Proctor High School's hallways and gym were decorated in blue and white lights for the event.

Before walking the red carpet, Mary Stevens was watching her daughter, Denfeld senior Brianna Stevens, have her hair styled in the high school cafeteria. Mary explained that Night to Shine would be an "amazing" experience for her daughter. There aren't a lot of activities like it for kids with special needs, she said, and she was grateful for the volunteers who made it happen.

"It means everything to me. It's amazing. Everybody is volunteering their time so the kids can have a good time. It almost makes you want to cry because she didn't get to go to her prom," Mary said.

Jessica Mattevi styles hair for Brianna Stevens of Duluth at Proctor High School on Friday. (Clint Austin / DNT)Night to Shine was funded by the Tim Tebow Foundation and hosted by Augustana Lutheran Church of Midway Township. The event began with 100 prom-goers having their hair styled and makeup done and their shoes shined at the school. After a ride in a limo and walking the red carpet, prom-goers received a corsage and a tiara or a crown, and had their photo taken. They then headed to the high school's gym for dinner and dancing, in addition to karaoke, caricatures and mini-golf.

Brianna agreed when her mother asked if she felt like a princess while having her hair curled and pinned up by Jessica Mattevi of Vain Salon in Duluth. Brianna was wearing a new dress and new shoes bought specifically for the occasion, and a necklace she wanted to borrow from her mother.

Brianna said she was looking forward to the dancing. Mary added that her daughter had been talking about going to Night to Shine ever since they found out about it.

Mattevi was one of dozens of stylists, cosmetologists and other professionals volunteering at Night to Shine.

"I had an aunt growing up who had special needs, and just learning how to correspond with her and speak with her, I just have a heart for it. I feel so blessed in my career, that it's good to give back," she said.

Courtney Ritchie, a junior at Proctor High School, was attending Night to Shine with her mother, both wearing gowns and having their hair done. She explained that her aunt came over to her house to help with hair and makeup and help her into her prom dress. Her hair had been partly dyed blue to match her blue prom dress. Ritchie said she tried on a red prom dress first, but it wasn't right. Then she found the blue dress that was perfect.

It's "amazing" to have an event like Night to Shine, she said, and she was impressed by all the decorations around the school.

"I actually can't believe they got this all set up in a day," she said.

Augustana Lutheran Church is among hundreds of churches that received grants from the Tim Tebow Foundation to host 375 Night to Shine proms in every state and 11 countries this year.

The planning for Night to Shine took about a year, said Mollie Haag, one of the local event organizers. The foundation requires the limos and red carpet to be part of it, but the local organizers added activities such as mini-golf to add more fun for the prom guests, she said. She lauded the Proctor school district for providing the site for the event. The organizing committee members all have ties to Proctor schools either as parents or staff.

Friday's event was the inaugural Night to Shine in the Northland and it was open to anyone older than 14 who has special needs. The church will be reapplying for the grant next year and hopes to make Night to Shine an annual event that becomes larger with more sponsors, Haag said.

"I hope that everybody has a fabulous night, that memories are made. I hope that everybody knows how much God loves them and how special and important they are," she said.