A Night to Shine

By Tim Burke and Eileen Scheibe

Prom sign

Prom season is here,  and it is no different for our Equinox youth.  Thinking back to the highlights of our EQ Life winter program,  the Night to Shine Prom  was at the top of the list.  The excitement of prom night remains a vivid memory for many adults,  and this month parents are going through it all over again with their own teens.  The anticipation, the dress/tuxedo shopping, presenting corsages, the nervous jitters before hitting the dance floor, and the joy of dancing the night away with friends!

The Night to Shine Prom, sponsored by The Tim Tebow Foundation was no exception to creating the memories of another fantastic prom night.  Our teens and young adults with social and learning differences, many of whom had never enjoyed this high school experience, had a fantastic night!  Their eyes grew big and the smiles were unforgettable as they rolled up to the red carpet, stepped out of the car, and listened to a crowd of people erupt in cheers  celebrating their arrival! They were the VIPs, and it was truly their Night to Shine!   

Preparing for this event was full of a lot of learning, role playing,  practice, and laughter.  During EQ Life (Learning Independence through Friendship and Experience),  engaging activities were created to teach new concepts related to attending a formal dance.   Youth learned social competencies involving proper etiquette, dinner conversation, coping with a high stimulus environment, and expected behavior when attending a formal event with other peers and adults.   Our young men had questions about their tuxes, putting on ties, and how to ask girls to dance.  Our young ladies wondered about how fancy their dress should be and how the venue would look. 

Our EQ team members built in specific life skill practice as each prom-goer decided between budgets for their outfits or picking something from their closet, and renting a limousine versus having an EQ team member chauffeur them to the prom.   EQ Life participants discussed each other’s priorities, “wants vs. needs”  and how to spend money for the event.  They practiced important tools such as  thinking about others’ values and points of view,  group decision-making to arrive at a compromise, and balancing wants and needs. In the end they together decided we “really want to just  look and feel fantastic and have a great time together!”

As the prom neared, excitement abounded in the EQ office. When the evening of prom arrived, participants and parents gathered at the office to take pictures. The staff and participants made toasts with sparkling grape juice in stemmed glasses and shared their hopes and excitement for the evening before they were off to the prom.  Participants then loaded up the vehicle and headed out the door to be driven in style by “Mr. Timothy”, our chauffeur for the night.

The prom itself was an incredible frenzy of activity. Arrival at the prom was akin to a movie star showing up at the red carpet for the Oscars. The crowd cheered, clapped and celebrated the group’s arrival with boundless enthusiasm.  The EQ Life group was thrilled, to say the least! The night consisted of social time with new acquaintances, a full dinner, carnival games, and the crowning of all the kings and queens of the prom (every attendee was ceremoniously named King or Queen of the Prom). The DJ, of course, was pumping out popular tunes and had the entire crowd groovin’ on the dance floor.  Our group made their way to the stage and danced their hearts out.  They welcomed other prom goers to their circle and demonstrated an environment of acceptance and encouragement for anyone who wanted to join their dance group.  

Our young men and women of EQ Life did such an amazing job throughout the evening.  Loud, exciting and stimulating environments can present challenges for our young adults and this evening was a testament to their hard work and dedication to mastering social and coping skills that allow them to navigate relationships and social situations with poise. It was a very successful and enjoyable evening for everyone.

As the night dwindled to a close, our prom goers celebrated their social skills victories, their dance moves, and their friendships with each other.  At the end of the night, each group member shared with their peers and parents the successes of the night. The prom-goers talked to their peers in the group about how everyone’s energy, and positivity led to a great experience for everyone involved.

As an Equinox team, we take great pride in the young men and women we work with on a daily basis.  This was a particularly rewarding experience for us as we saw our young people flourish in a social setting, experience belonging, and most of all, have a blast!  

For our youth and young adults involved in  EQ Life , they have opportunities such as the Night to Shine to practice social and life skills they have learned and developed in a therapeutic group environment.   In addition to weekly group sessions that focus on skills related to situational coping, problem solving, healthy relationships,  flexible thinking, and distress tolerance, each weekend the youth are out and about in our community practicing and rehearsing these skills in real life situations.  We believe that sustainable and transferable skill and relationship development effectively happens when young people are able to navigate new experiences with strong support and safety nets in place.   The Night to Shine was another amazing opportunity for our youth to shine!!