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Francis Morris crowns her daughter Maria at Night to Shine Friday night.

On a night to celebrate those with special needs, one mother and daughter relished their own shining moment.
 
Before honoring the other attendees at Night to Shine, organizers held a special ceremony to allow 98-year old Francis Morris to crown her daughter Maria, who is on the autism spectrum.
 
“She’s been a blessing to me,” Francis Morris said. “We are glad that God sent her to us. We appreciate her so much.”
 
That embrace was one of many memorable moments at Conway's third annual Night to Shine, a prom for people 14 and older with special needs or disabilities.
 
The Rock Church hosted the event, which had everything from a red carpet entrance for participants, a horse drawn carriage, a karaoke section, a dance floor and even a place for caregivers and parents to relax while their children enjoyed themselves. 
Lance Thompson’s daughter, Savannah, has Williams Syndrome. She had developmental delays and lives with physical and mental disabilities. However, it’s nights like Friday that mean so much to her.
 
“She attended the first one two years ago and she looks forward to this every year,” Lance Thompson said. “She knows when it’s getting close and she gets all excited. It’s a big night for her and we like to see her happy.”
 
Started by the Tim Tebow Foundation six years ago, Night to Shine aims to give special needs children an event that celebrates them. Conway's prom was among 800 other Night to Shine events held around the world Friday.

Thompson said it's important to have a public figure like Tim Tebow, a former NFL quarterback and two-time college national champion at the University of Florida, support this kind of event.
 
“It’s unbelievable that he would even get involved,” Thompson said. “It is amazing that he along with his organization would do that. Also, it’s incredible that the community gets so heavily involved with this.”
 
Many local businesses support the event, and Coastal Carolina University students volunteer as well.
 
Rylee Atteberry, a junior from Colorado who is also a goalkeeper on the Coastal women’s soccer team, was a “buddy” for the evening. She assisted the honored guests.
 
“Honestly, this event means the world to me," she said. "To be able to interact with these beautiful people is an honor. They honestly give me so much more than I could ever give them and it’s truly a special experience.”
 
This was Atteberry’s first time helping out with Night to Shine, but it won’t be her last.
 
“I won’t ever go a year without it from now on,” she said. “I’m already looking forward to the next one.”
 
While some participants only had to travel from Myrtle Beach or right down the road in Conway, Lisa Parker and her daughter Hannah came all the way from Charleston to take part in the festivities.
 
“Adrian Robertson, who really helped spearhead this event, suggested that we come up here,” she said. “Her daughter Caroline has been at this event several times and it sounded like fun.”
 
Parker’s daughter Hannah has Angelman syndrome, a genetic disorder causing developmental disabilities and nerve-related symptoms. Robertson's daughter has the same condition.
 
“It just shows that there are a lot of families with special needs and there’s a lot of community involvement and support in making them all feel accepted," Parker said. "That’s wonderful."
 
When Francis Morris' daughter was born, doctors told her the child would never walk or talk. 
 
“She can’t stop talking now,” the proud mother said with a laugh.
 
Morris said she loved seeing all of Night to Shine's joyful attendees — and the encouraging volunteers. 
 
“It is wonderful that people with special needs are being recognized as real people and that they have a place in this world,” she said. 
 
 

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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