It started off small.
In early 2015, Tim Tebow told PEOPLE about a new idea: He and his Foundation would create Night to Shine, a worldwide prom for people with special needs. For one night, people with mental and physical disabilities would be celebrated. They would walk the red carpet while dressed in tuxes and gowns. There would be hair, makeup and shoe shine stations. And, of course, there would be dancing.
At the time, Tebow said that Night to Shine was a way to redefine Valentine’s Day by encouraging people to focus on things bigger than themselves.
And it clicked. During Valentine’s Day weekend of 2015, there were 44 simultaneous prom events. More than 7,000 people with special needs attended the events, which were held in churches in 26 states and two foreign countries.
So The Tim Tebow Foundation did it again in 2016, when 32,000 guests attended proms in 201 locations – a 450% increase.
PEOPLE flew with Tebow to Haiti for a Night to Shine event, watching the former NFL quarterback – and current baseball player – as he danced the night away with people who have not historically been celebrated. “It’s more than a prom,” Tebow told PEOPLE in Haiti. “These are people who need to know that they matter. They matter to other people. They matter to God.”
So how will Tebow top the event in 2017? For one thing, it will be bigger. There will be 375 locations in all 50 states and 11 countries. They’ve also picked up their first global corporate sponsor: American Residential Services, who will provide both financial backing and volunteers around the country.
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As in previous years, Tebow will make surprise appearances at some of the events – but he keeps his specific travel plans under wraps until the last minute.
For Tebow, the phenomenal growth has been gratifying. “I’ve been blown away by the incredible growth of the Night to Shine movement,” he tells PEOPLE. “It is so awesome to see what happens when churches around the world set aside their individual banners and names to do what I believe the church was called to do, which is simply love God and love people.”
To volunteer at a prom near you – or to refer a guest – check out the Night to Shine website.