Most high schoolers experience a night full of dancing, laughing and making memories when they attend prom, but Angelena Mora didn't have the same opportunity.

Her peers did not treat her in a way she wanted to be treated, which was quite traumatic for her. Instead of dancing the night away, she missed out. 

That is until she attended Night to Shine, a prom night experience for people with special needs, last year. Finally, she had the moment she was always hoping to have.

"I can go to prom, have fun and just be me," Mora said Friday, eager for another great night. "It's hard to explain how I feel, but it's good."

Smiles, happy feet and overall good times were universal for the 225 guests who attended the prom held at Crossroads Christian Fellowship. Sponsored by The Tim Tebow Foundation, the night featured a dance floor with a winter wonderland theme, hair and makeup stations, shoe shining areas, limousine rides, carnival games and karaoke.

It's the third year the event has been in Bakersfield, thanks to event coordinator Brian Conlee. He saw a highlight video from a prom night in Florida and thought it would be a great event to put on locally. From that first prom, he has had guests ages 14 to 71 hit the dance floor and have the time of their life.

Along with the guests, there are 500 volunteers and 400 parents who help out and enjoy the night.

"They feel like they can be themselves. They're in a safe environment where we're celebrating them and they don't have to feel like they have to have a special behavior, act a certain way," Conlee said, who is also a fire captain for Kern County Fire Department. "They're all comfortable with who they are and they all have some form of special needs which to us is a blessing ... own it, don't hide it."

As guests arrived, they got to walk down a red carpet and have their photos taken by "paparazzi" before heading indoors.

Dates Eric Galindo and Amy Grant, who walked in arm in arm, have been to the prom previously and said they enjoyed dancing, singing karaoke and going on a limo ride. They were looking forward to making more fun memories Friday.

"It feels really good to be here," Galindo said. "I like to see my friends ... and we have a great time together."

A great time was definitely had, as they were seen shimmying on the dance floor to Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce songs. 

Kyra Houser, dressed in a royal blue gown with jewel details, was hoping to dance with a Bakersfield Police officer like she did last year, while Katherine Brittin, who was attending the prom for the first time, was looking forward to enjoying the night with her fiance and soon to be sister-in-law.

"I heard from them that they had a fun time last year so I'm excited to try something new," Brittin said.

As much as the attendees enjoy themselves year after year, the same can be said for the volunteers and organizers. It makes them appreciate the little moments in life, and they even learn a thing or two. 

"You look at them and the situations that a lot of them are in and they're happy and content," Conlee said. "It makes me look at me a lot, like what do I have to complain about?"

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

(1) comment

REMUDA

Sometimes, we see brilliance in those who safeguard our valley . . . measured in ways far 'above and beyond' their profession. Brian, & that unnamed BPD officer most assuredly have sidekicks in that 500 volunteers and 400 parents, who greatly outnumbered their 225 guests. Thanks, Guys & Gals . . . and the Tim Tebow and Crossroads colleagues!

All are heroes to those 'special needs' folks . . . as they also are to us who applaud . . . and echo " . . . what do I have to complain about . . . ?"

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