CHAMPAIGN — On one special evening, Darren Wolken and his date will get dressed up and walk into a dance on a red carpet.
They’ll be cheered and photographed by paparazzi, just like celebrities are.
And before the evening ends, they’ll be crowned prom king and queen.
It will be Wolken’s fourth year going to “Night to Shine” at First Christian Church in Champaign — an event designed to be an unforgettable prom night for teens and adults with special needs.
Set for Feb. 7, Night to Shine is much more than a dance. Dinner is served. There are hair and makeup stations for the women, corsages and boutonnieres, limo rides, a karaoke room and a balloon drop.
And, as in past Night to Shine evenings, each prom guest will be crowned a prom king or queen.
Wolken, 32, of Champaign, said entering on that red carpet is “amazing.”
“It’s almost like a movie premiere, but it isn’t,” he said.
Wolken said his prom date will again be his best friend, Ashley Davis. They met when he asked her to dance at a 2008 western dance sponsored by the Champaign Park District.
The Tim Tebow Foundation sponsors these prom nights as a reminder that God is for everybody, and that God is there to love and support everyone, Wolken said.
“That’s the real purpose of it,” he said.
The Tim Tebow Foundation sponsors Night to Shine at hundreds of churches across the U.S.
At First Christian Church, a foundation grant, the church, many business sponsors and donors cover the costs so the event can be entirely free to the prom guests, according to Kelsey Wright of Monticello, the local event organizer.
This year, First Christian is expecting about 160 prom guests and about 500 volunteers on hand to help, she said.
Parents and family members of the prom guests who come to Night to Shine will also be given dinner in a separate room, where they can relax and still be nearby, Wright said.
Wolken, who has an aunt and uncle in Ogden and a younger brother in Thomasboro, doesn’t expect to see any of his family members at Night to Shine, he said, but Davis’ parents will be taking them to the event.
In his younger years, Wolken went to school in Thomasboro and Rantoul and graduated from Urbana High School in 2007. His dad passed away, and his mom doesn’t live nearby.
When he’s not at Night to Shine, Wolken leads a pretty busy life.
He’s been involved in several Developmental Services Center Prompting Theater productions as an actor or crew member. He works weekdays at DSC sites in Champaign and Urbana, and enjoys bowling, music and taking part in Special Recreation sports activities in the evenings.
For DSC, he’s in charge of the healthy snack cart that is brought to various departments as a healthier alternative to vending machine snacks.
He recently picked up still another job, answering the phones a couple of mornings a week at the Champaign Park District’s Hays Recreation Center, he said.
Wolken said he enjoys the dinner, the dancing and karaoke at Night to Shine. He plans to take part in karaoke again this year, though which song he’ll sing, he hasn’t decided yet.
“Anything I put my heart to,” he said.