With a sigh and exaggerated eyeroll only a teenager can master, Tyler McQueen shuffled back to the dressing room. Again.
When he emerged a few minutes later, having exchanged the gray dress shirt he was wearing for a blue one, he got signs of approval.
Except for one thing.
“Take off the hat and let me see it that way,” said Brenda Robertson, his father’s fiancé.
Tyler doffed his camouflage ball cap and showed off the suit he will be wearing at Night to Shine on Feb. 9 at Celebration Community Church.
Tyler said he likes trying on clothes, but was sent back to the dressing room several times to try a different shirt or jacket.
“I’m not used to changing that much. I’m used to changing only once,” the 15-year-old said.
“It’s not because of the selection, it’s because we’re picky,” Robertson said with a laugh.
Thursday evening, the Arc of the Central Plains and Fort Hays State University student group Tiger Pals opened the activity room at the Arc’s building at 600 Main to allow some of the 150 expected guests at Night to Shine to choose a dress or suit for the big night.
Night to Shine is a prom night experience for people with special needs 14 and older sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. On the same night, more than 540 churches around the world will host an event.
This will be the first Night to Shine in Hays. Keshawn Sewell, president of Tiger Pals, approached Brent Kaiser, activities director at the Arc, about bringing the event here.
Sewell started Tiger Pals as a way to connect college students with special needs students. The group has worked with the Arc and in Hays schools with activities like reading to students or helping with homework.
“This is something I wanted to do as a freshman, but I just wasn't prepared for something of this magnitude,” Sewell said. “Then having an opportunity to talk to Brent as a senior, we thought this was something we could do together.”
The volunteers admit it’s been more work than they anticipated, but said it’s exciting to see the project develop.
“There's a lot of things you really have to think about with the special needs community,” Kaiser said. “We just want to make sure all those things are covered to make this as special a night as possible and we don't have any hitches.”
“I’m proud of our whole team,” said Katelyn Unruh, an FHSU senior. “We basically all have full-time jobs, so this kind of feels like a second full-time job sometimes. We all share the load, but we’re all very involved.”
They also are impressed with the community support, such as the partnership with Celebration Community Church in providing the venue, Hays Academy of Hair Design offering hair styling services on the big day, and Gella’s Diner catering the dinner.
They also received several grants, including $5,000 from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation.
The night will include a red carpet with paparazzi to welcome the guests, a dance, party bus and activities. A respite room will offer food and even massages from FHSU massage therapy students for parents and the more than 200 volunteers who will be guiding the guests through the night’s activities..
Many of the dresses on hand for girls and women to choose from Thursday and at a previous event Sunday were provided by Cupid’s Corner.
“We were super overwhelmed with the amount of dresses we got,” Kaiser said, looking at several racks full of colorful prom dresses. “We will not ever need this many dresses for this one event. We’ll be able to hold them for future years.”
That wasn’t the same case for the men’s wardrobe. Only one rack of suits, dress shirts and a few ties were available Thursday. Joshua Rupe had some trouble finding a matching jacket and pants that fit, but modeled a jacket for his mother, Luanne Rowlison.
She said her son was looking forward to Night to Shine and would be going with his best friend.
Younger brother Jonah is only 13, so he can’t go this year.
“I have to wait another year. I want to wear a tuxedo like that,” he said about his brother’s jacket.
Austin Dibble, 19, found a suit that fit his tall, broad-shouldered frame.
He and his mother, Jennifer, live in Osborne and were excited Night to Shine would be in Hays.
“We’ve always seen them on TV. And we love Tim Tebow. We follow him, and we think it’s wonderful what he does with glorifying God,” she said.
“He’s nice and cool, kinda classy,” Austin said.
Austin said he’d never been to a dance before and was looking forward to Night to Shine.
Jennifer said previously, Kansas City was the closest location.
“That’s a five-hour drive for us,” she said. “We were really excited that it got this close.”
After Tyler had found his outfit, his mother, Carolyn McElhaney, arrived with Tyler’s sister, Kimberly McQueen. She’s 13 but will turn 14 before Feb. 9, so she will get to go, too.
Kimberly had been at a basketball game, but now it was her turn to choose a dress. She was happy with her first choice, a flowing teal dress.
For Mom, it was a bit much to handle.
“She’s growing up,” McElhaney said, holding back tears.
Paul McQueen wasn’t as emotional, but he said he was glad the event would be in Hays.
“It’s a way they can feel normal and be themselves and not be judged,” he said.
“It makes them feel special, especially the ones who are older who might not have gotten to go to prom in school. This is like prom for them,” Robertson said.