If you go step out of a limo onto the red carpet into a throng of adoring fans and paparazzi calling your name for a photo … you might be a Hollywood star, or you might be an Honored Guest at A Night to Remember right here in Madison.
For the fifth year, Heartland Church will host A Night to Remember, a special prom-like experience for kids, teens and adults with developmental disabilities, at 5:30 pm on Saturday, May 5. It’s the third year that it will take place at Monona Terrace Convention Center, and the second year that it will be held in partnership with the local nonprofit Selfless Ambition.
“This is a group of individuals that’s often overlooked in society and marginalized, and sometimes neglected. And so we try really hard to do the complete opposite,” says A Night to Remember Executive Director Melissa Shutwell. “The whole night is about them. They are treated like royalty. And they get a host for the evening, someone who just makes sure that they feel like they’re the most important person in the room. Everything’s for free. They don’t have to worry about paying for anything, which is a huge deal for a lot of our guests.”
That includes hair and makeup, ball gowns and tuxedo rentals, a limo ride and dance, all thanks to local volunteers.
With the event growing every year — the first welcomed 40 guests and this year’s will have around 300 — more and more volunteers are needed, especially to be hosts.
“It’s like a friend for the night, so that no one is alone and they also don’t have to be with their caretaker or their parent,” Shutwell says. “It’s just a way that we celebrate and honor that person and hopefully serve them really well throughout the night.”
Shutwell says the commitment to be a host would be about five hours altogether, gathering at 3:30 for orientation, optional prayer time and grab a bite to eat before the Honored Guests arrive at 5:30. The event goes until 8:30.
The hosts are especially important this year as for the first time, parents and caretakers will be off getting some special treatment of their own.
“We’re just recognizing that (being) a parent or a caretaker of an individual that has a disability can sometimes be hard and they deserve a break and they deserve to be honored, as well,” Shutwell says. “And so we’re trying our best this year to do that. And so we’ll have a space where, as our guests are enjoying the dance, our parents can be enjoying … a more restful space.We have a pianist coming in. And we have a nice spread of food for our parents. We have massage therapists coming in to provide chair massages. We’re going to do a yoga class. We have a relaxation room, and other activities and games, just some fun stuff planned for our parents.”
Shutwell says the event also needs more volunteer hair stylists and makeup artists, as well as people to make up the “paparazzi” — the crowd cheering for each guest as they walk the red carpet.
“That’s a role that’s fun for families to do,” Shutwell says, noting that the priority at this point is to fill the ranks of hosts.
Registration is still open for Honored Guests, as well.
“We try to never turn anybody away, even if they didn’t hear about it until the very end,” Shutwell says.
Shutwell says there’s no real age limit for guests, though children 4 – 13 are “Junior Honored Guests” and should be dressed nicely by their parents and caretakers. Honored Guests are 14 and up with no upper age limit.
“It’s probably for sure the only time they’re gonna walk the red carpet, to a crowd that cheers for them by name,” she says. “That’s the coolest moment. It’s about the celebration of who they are. I just think in our society disability is kind of a negative stigma and we’re trying to change that. We’re trying to show that disability is not a bad thing and it’s the differences are what make us human, and everyone is worth celebrating.”
“A NIght to Remember has become my favorite event of the year,” says Selfless Ambition CEO Henry Sanders. “I am looking forward to a night of dancing, laughing and more importantly serving our Honored Guests.” Sanders is also publisher of Madison365.
To volunteer or register an Honored Guest, visit https://www.ntrheartland.com.