AURELIUS — In between dance moves, Frank Granato explained why he enjoyed the Night to Shine at Fingerlakes Mall.
"It makes me feel special," Frank said.
Frank and his designated partner for the night, or "buddy," Brooke Green, were among an estimated 750-800 people at the event in Aurelius Saturday, a prom experience for people with special needs, and the fourth annual celebration held by Auburn Alliance Church. Night to Shine parties were held across the country Friday but the Aurelius shindig was delayed a day due to weather. The events are sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
The Cayuga County event also included an area where guests could get their makeup, hair and nails done and and their shoes shined. Each guest and their buddy walked down a red carpet upon their arrival as onlookers jubilantly cheered.
Chad Mitchell, the coordinator for the local event, noted the night took six months of preparation, but said it was worth the effort. He praised the various organizations that came together to make this night happen.
"Part of the mission of this event is to spread faith, hope and love to those who may be overlooked by the general community," Mitchell said. "We're here to serve the people with special needs within our community to let them know that they're loved and they're God's creations. God made them the way that they are."
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A line formed for people to get their picture taken, with Tyler Wawrzaszek and buddy, Mandy Applebee, flashing their pearly whites for the camera.
At one of the stations, Taylor Campbell got her makeup done. Taylor, 15, said she wanted to achieve the look of Princess Tiana from the Disney film "The Princess and the Frog."
As she walked over to get her nails done, her mother, Katrina Taylor, looked on with a smile. Katrina said her daughter doesn't normally feel accepted at school. The Night to Shine, Katrina said, allows Taylor to be in an environment where everyone around her makes her feel included.
"This is where she feels at home," she said.
Harrison Mercado was a hurricane on the dance floor, spinning around and nailing his moves. His buddy, Kielan Whitner, often matched his steps. Close by taking pictures was Harrison's mother, Chris Mercado.
Harrison, 16, can form words but is still working on complete sentences, Chris said. One way Harrison can express himself is through dance. Chris said Harrison has relaxed over the last couple of years in ways he hadn't before. She noted concern about how he would feel about the red carpet welcome, but "he came running through." She was overjoyed to watch her son come into his own before her eyes.
"He's loosening up," Chris said as she gazed at Harrison with visible pride. "He's growing into himself."
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.