Young Volunteers ‘Shine’

Bethesda’s Night to Shine events in Wisconsin and Colorado would not have succeeded without the help of hundreds of volunteers who served as buddies, shined shoes, checked coats, served food, registered guests, and much more.

But it was the young volunteers from local high schools and churches who truly brought a contagious energy to the events as they infused Night to Shine with dancing, laughing, smiling and picture taking and made new, meaningful connections with people with disabilities.

Among the Wisconsin groups to volunteer were the Arrowhead High School Key Club in Hartland; St. John’s Ashippun Youth Group, Oconomowoc; Brookfield Lutheran Church Youth Group; Luther Prep High School, Watertown; and St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy, Delafield.

Colorado hosted a Night to Shine event for the first time with help from young volunteers from Lutheran High School, Parker; Trinity Lutheran Church, Sterling; Our Father Lutheran Church, Centennial; and Trinity Lutheran Church, Franktown.

Bethesda trained volunteers before the event to explain their responsibilities for the night, discuss the importance of using People First Language, explain the rights of people with disabilities and provide additional tips about behaviors and situations they might encounter.

All Dressed Up in Wisconsin

With 49 members volunteering, Arrowhead High School’s Key Club had a significant presence at Night to Shine.

Rachel Steele, a 15-year-old sophomore, says friends who volunteered at Night to Shine last year recommended the event to her. She served as a buddy to Taylor, who Rachel called very outgoing. They talked about school and music, sang karaoke and went on a limousine ride.

“She told me how she had been in a limo before and how she liked getting dressed up and getting ready for the dance,” Rachel says.

Night to Shine, Rachel says, opened her eyes about disabilities and allowed her to see other people’s experiences.

Another sophomore, Emily Elfner, 16, says she felt comfortable volunteering for Night to Shine because her younger brother has Down syndrome. She also volunteers for a local organization that provides horse therapy to children with disabilities.

Emily advised other Key Club members how to approach the event. “I mostly told them to be excited and happy and to treat them like you would anyone else,” she says.

Night to Shine gave insight into a potential career for Morgan Cobian, a 15-year-old sophomore.

“I really like working with people,” she says. “I’m looking to do something in social work, and I thought this would be a good opportunity for me. I haven’t really had experience with people with disabilities.”

Through Night to Shine, Morgan says she realized it is important to understand that each person with disabilities is different and has their own abilities.

Key Club advisor Kevin Lewandowski says he was impressed by the response he received from his members for Night to Shine. “It was probably our biggest event so far this year,” he says. “Students were excited.”

Arrowhead has programs dedicated to inclusion, including a Best Buddies chapter that pairs students with people with and without disabilities, but Kevin says he likes the focus of Night to Shine.

“I think a lot of them got to see a side of people with disabilities that they don’t always get to see,” he says. “That exposure was one of the reasons we jumped on this opportunity.”

As he often does after club events, Kevin says he asked students on the bus ride back to school about their impression of Night to Shine, and he received enthusiastic responses.

“A night dedicated to fun and socializing with different groups of friends,” he says. “I just thought it was perfect. I think it had a lasting impact.”

Colorado is for Loving People

In Colorado, Trinity Lutheran Church in Sterling sent their youth and young adult volunteers. Jen Deines, director of Christian education at Trinity Lutheran, says Night to Shine gave her group an opportunity to love others selflessly.

“Our desire was to make the honored guests truly feel loved by God and by us,” she says. “I loved how quickly students wanted to sign up and be a part of this event. I love how we can serve our Savior in everyday ways in such a simple manner: loving people.

“If you take away the music, the corsages, the dinner, and limos, what made the night the most spectacular was the people. People loving people all in the name of Jesus.”

Kirsten Torres, a 17-year-old senior, says the event touched her heart, and she would enjoy volunteering again. She was a buddy to Kelly; they hit it off and even had a drawing of them made.

“My favorite part of the night was getting to know Kelly more as a person,” Kirsten says. “The two of us talking was really unique. I got to know her whole life, and she got to know mine.”

Kirsten’s parents also volunteered at Night to Shine after they had learned she wanted to help at the event. “Volunteering as a family was an amazing experience,” she says. “It was so great to see us all serving the Lord together.”

Rachel Rosas, a 14-year-old freshman, admits to being nervous beforehand about the responsibility that went with being a buddy, but she left the event energized.

“I had never before interacted with a person with disabilities,” she says. “After Night to Shine, I can’t wait to go back. I had an amazing time dancing with everyone and meeting all the new people.”

A senior, 18-year-old Jessica Holloway, says she did not know exactly what to expect at Night to Shine but ultimately had a similar reaction as Rachel.

“I knew that it was definitely going to be a step out of my comfort zone,” she says. “I was nervous at first, but after a while and after I got my buddy, I was having the best time.”

Jessica says she would be more than happy to volunteer again after her experience.

“Just seeing them all have fun and dance their hearts out on the dance floor was just amazing,” she says. “I loved them all. Everyone I talked to had their own uniqueness, and they were all so much fun to hang out with.”

Sarah Krueger, a 20-year-old who attends Colorado Christian University, buddied with a man whose mother stayed with her group throughout Night to Shine.

“She got ahold of me the next day and said that we did a great job with him and gave me the confidence I needed to know I did OK because at first I wasn’t sure,” she says. “The Holy Spirit was definitely with me all of that night.”

The many smiles from the night stayed with her long after the event was over, Sarah says.

“Getting to see their faces light up when they were being showered with love and attention almost brought tears of joy to my eyes,” she says.

Our Father Lutheran in Centennial was also represented by young volunteers, including 16-year-old Eric Winkler, a high school junior.

Eric served on the clean-up crew, helping to put away tables, chairs and other items from the event. He says he went away from Night to Shine feeling he had helped make a difference in people’s lives.

“I think that I actually realized that those with disabilities should to be treated just as anyone else, and that things like Night to Shine really make their lives happier,” he says.

Volunteer today!

Want to help Bethesda in our mission to enhance the lives of people with disabilities through services that share the good news of Jesus Christ? You can pick from various volunteer opportunities that offer truly rewarding experiences, including events such as Night to Shine, our thrift stores, Home Heroes program and the Bethesda Auxiliary.


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