ENID, Okla. — Deberah Nightingale was 70 years old the first time she danced.

Like many adults who've grown up with disabilities, she felt shunned from her high school dances and didn't have opportunities as an adult to attend dances and parties. That all changed for Nightingale three years ago, when the first Night to Shine event came to Enid.

Night to Shine, a prom experience for people with special needs, gives many of the participants their first chance to enjoy a dance or dressed-up night on the town.

Nightingale shared her story Friday at Enid Noon AMBUCS, to let others know how Night to Shine has changed her life.

After suffering from polio as a child, Nightingale was left in crutches and braces as a high school student.

She said many students were cruel to her and two other disabled students in her class. They often would kick her crutches out from under her to watch her fall, and they called her "frog" because of her disabilities.

"It was devastating — I would just dissolve in tears," she said. "High school was the most miserable existence I ever had, just not being part of the group."

In 1966, when it came time for her senior prom, she held out hope someone would ask her to the dance.

"I waited by the phone for two days, hoping someone would ask me to the prom," Nightingale said. But, no one called.

"I wanted to be a part of that so bad," Nightingale said. "All I did was sit and cry all that evening."

Nightingale went on to a full and enriching life. She married a career Army intelligence officer, had a successful career as a midwife and advocated for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But, she never did get that dance, until she heard about Night to Shine in 2018.

For the first time, she got to wear a ball gown. She had her hair and nails done by volunteers at the event. Then, she was crowned, and made her way down a 75-foot red carpet experience and a balloon arch, complete with throngs of photographers and fans cheering her on.

"It was fun to be treated like the queen I am," Nightingale said.

More importantly, she said the event gave her and other attendees a sense of "love, acceptance, non-discrimination and just a flat good time for everyone."

"I couldn't believe how fun it was, how freeing it was, and how permission-giving it was to just enjoy yourself and feel normal," Nightingale said. "It does so much for your ego as a person with a disability. You're part of the group. You're accepted by others."

Nightingale said she returned for the 2019 event, has been planning since last year for the 2020 Night to Shine, "and I will go to every one until my dying day."

She bought an emerald green dress the day after last year's Night to Shine, and she's looking forward to wearing it down the red carpet at this year's event, 6-9 p.m. Feb. 7 at Oakwood Christian Church, 401 N. Oakwood.

Since attending Night to Shine, she's also taken to wearing a bejeweled frog pin, a sign to herself she's overcome those who once taunted and hurt her.

"I'm a beautiful frog now," Nightingale said.

Becca Johnson, chair for this year's Night to Shine, said the organization needs the community's help to give more people like Nightingale that sense of belonging and beauty.

She said it takes about $40 per guest to fund Night to Shine, and donations are needed to help cover expenses. Johnson said they're also still short about 60 buddies — the volunteers who assist prom-goers throughout the course of the evening.

"It's an amazing feeling not everyone gets to feel, and we're really blessed to be a part of it," Johnson said. She encouraged more members of the community to volunteer, to "get out and enjoy an opportunity to give back to a part of our community that doesn't always have a voice."

Event volunteers must be at least 16 years old and be able to pass a background check.

Donations can be made payable to "Night to Shine Enid" and sent to McVay Law Firm, 211 N. Washington, or Oakwood Christian Church.

For information, to register for the event or volunteer, go to http://nighttoshineenid.com.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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