The Friday before Valentine’s Day is going to be a special night for some of Haywood County’s most special folks.

The event is called “Night to Shine,” and will be a prom for Haywood County’s special needs individuals — people who don’t typically get to enjoy such events in a comfortable, safe atmosphere.

The idea for the event was first brought up by Roxanne Pope, who owns Urban Athletic Training Center in Canton. Pope volunteered at a similar event last year in Marion. She said the event was one of the most heart-warming experiences she’s ever enjoyed.

I didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t my church, and it was out of town. It was very emotional, just joyful. The people who would walk in, they walk in on their red carpet. They know that’s their moment. They were so happy. They knew that was their big moment. Just their joy exudes. Your heart gets filled up

“When I left there, I was blown away,” she said. “I was so filled with joy. It was amazing to be a part of that, and I couldn’t believe we weren’t doing that in Haywood County.”

Pope’s first move was to take the idea to Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers, who loved it. Shortly after that, the two met again, this time with Arc of Haywood Executive Director Steve Brown and Caleb Simmons, operations pastor for Pinnacle Church in Canton. The idea was off the ground.

The town became a co-sponsor and offered up free use of its armory to host the event.

“We think this is a perfect event for the armory,” Smathers said. “We are honored and extremely happy this is going to take place in Canton.”

Because the Tim Tebow Foundation, which hosts the event in cities nationwide, requires a church to be associated, Simmons was thrilled to have the opportunity for Pinnacle to be involved.

“We just want to take this opportunity as a church to join with our community to show love to a really great group of people in our community,” he said. “That’s what we’re all about trying to do is just loving people, and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

The event begins with the special guests arriving in limousines, where they walk a red carpet into the building with a volunteer paparazzi cheering them on every step of the way. Once inside, the guests will enjoy services such as hair and makeup and shoeshine stations. The prom itself features dinner and a DJ, and every guest is crowned either prom king or queen.

In addition, parents and caregivers will be treated to a rare evening alone in the “respite room.”

“There was a couple that was served a nice dinner at the one I attended in Marion and they wrote the church later saying how much they appreciated it, because they couldn’t remember the last time they got to sit down to a nice dinner,” Pope recalled.

Pope said the event is scheduled to run from about 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Feb. 8. Simmons said that while donations have pretty much all been accepted, they are still looking for more volunteers.

Anyone interested can apply to be a volunteer at Those interested in having a loved one who is 14 years of age or older participate can visit the same website. The event is capped at 125 guests, and as of last week, 90 had signed up.

By: The Mountaineer