|North Jacksonville Baptist creates prom-like experience for those with special needs
By Carolyn Nichols
Florida Baptist Convention photo by Jerry Favorite
May 28, 2014
JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Volunteers from North Jacksonville Baptist Church recently helped teens and adults with special needs feel like Cinderella and Prince Charming at the ball.
It was the “Best Night Ever” for both guests and volunteers, according to Josh Reavis, associate pastor for pastoral care at North Jacksonville, who headed up the event.
In its second year, Best Night Ever offered a prom-like experience that included a “glitz and glamour” makeover for each guest, red carpet entrance, dessert buffet with a popular chocolate fountain, a DJ, dance floor, and a performance by illusionist Jared Hall.
Two hundred volunteers cheered as guests were introduced as they stepped out of their valet service vehicles.
“We make them feel like rock stars,” Reavis said.
Every guest received a “glitz and glamour” makeover. The girls were treated to makeup and a glamorous hairstyle – topped by a tiara. This ensured that “everybody goes home a prom queen,” Reavis said.
While the girls were getting their hair and makeup done, North Jacksonville deacons shined the boys’ shoes. Other volunteers prepared food, and served as bathroom attendants or on the medical team. Each guest had a host assigned to them for the evening based on age and need.
“They walked through every part of the experience with them. Each host is careful, though, to communicate to their guest that they are ‘buddies,’ so that there is (no pretense) of romance,” Reavis said.
Guests and hosts stepped into a photo booth and received strips of photos, and videographer Will Thomas mailed each guest a DVD of the event.
Reavis said the genesis of the event came three years ago when a former church member sent him a video of a similar event at her church in North Carolina.
“I fell in love with the idea, and I showed it to everybody in the church office,” he said. “It took a year of planning before the first Best Night Ever.”
After the first Best Night Ever in 2013, word and interest in the event spread in Jacksonville. The local Down Syndrome Association endorsed it and encouraged parents to register their children. Several group home residents attended this year’s event.
“We learned from parents that the younger the children are, the more activities there are for them. But after they get older and get out of the school system, the opportunities for them are limited. We want to minister to the children and their families,” Reavis said.
The church’s Special Needs Class, which includes about 15 members ages 12-70, “get first dibs on the spots” at Best Night Ever, he said. The evening is offered free to all guests.
Reavis said the church’s volunteers “take literally” Luke 14:12-14, in which Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and you will be blessed…”
“Our church people beg me to let them do something at Best Night Ever,” he said. “They know that we are blessed far more than our guests.”