Hundreds in nation celebrate special prom

Tribune Chronicle photos / Renee Fox ABOVE: Amber Hartley, left, and Shelly Steffey, right, share a dance Friday at the Night to Shine Special Needs Prom at Wildare United Methodist Church in Cortland. The evening was organized in more than 500 churches across the world by the Tim Tebow Foundation.

CORTLAND — Joining 540 churches in 16 countries, 65 people with special needs and dozens of other guests got gussied up, took limo rides and were crowned prom queens and kings Friday at the Night to Shine Special Needs Prom.

Hosted at the Wildare United Methodist Church in Cortland, Pastor Jody Baker said he hopes to host the same event next year. The Tim Tebow Foundation has sponsored the evening for four years.

“These people deserve so much. The world just casts them aside. But this, it means so much,” said Emily Varner, mother to Christopher Varner, a man with special needs. “When he came home from Fairhaven with the flier, we put it on the calendar immediately and he has been looking forward to it ever since.”

Varner got himself a new top hat and carried his great uncle’s cane as he danced on the crowded dance floor.

The church raised $10,000 at a dinner fundraiser in December to pay for the event, and the foundation supplied party favors and trained volunteers.

Baker said he hopes to grow the event, always held the Friday before Valentine’s Day, and keep it going.

“The scripture teaches us to reach out to the ostracized and disconnected, what better way to do that than with a huge party?” Baker said.