Love was in the air at southern Maine’s fourth annual Night to Shine.

“Night to Shine is like prom,” said 25-year-old Marie Christie, wearing a tiara and holding hands with her boyfriend, Caleb Dunlap, who, like her, has Down syndrome.

Having a good time with 266 other teens and adults with disabilities from southern Maine at this annual lovefest at Eastpoint Christian Church, Christie and Dunlap arrived by limo, walked the red carpet, wore corsages, posed for photos, enjoyed a buffet from B. Good and danced the night away. Eastpoint is one of 540 churches in 16 countries that, with support from a Tim Tebow Foundation scholarship, hosts Night to Shine events.

“This is purely to love on our community,” said the church’s lead pastor, Scott Taube. “It’s one of the most gratifying events that we do all year long. The innocence of the participants is just moving.”

Because Eastpoint recently relocated to a much larger space at Clarks Pond Parkway in South Portland, organizers were able to accept twice as many guest registrations as they did last year, when all the spots were taken in 45 minutes.

“I never went to my prom when I was in high school,” said 30-year-old Ashley Stasulis. “So it’s awesome that I get to do this now.”

“There’s freedom,” added guest Rachel Coffin of Mechanic Falls.

Pulling off this event requires hundreds of volunteers with background checks on file, and yet most sign-ups to volunteer filled up in a matter of hours.

“We get to be part of something that has so much love and acceptance,” said volunteer Sallie Gardner of Falmouth.

Eliza Foster, a medical student at the University of New England, volunteered in 2017 and recruited 30 more volunteers from the university this year. “This is by far my favorite event, and I wanted my classmates to get a sense of Night to Shine,” said Foster, who chairs the Community Service Committee at UNE.

“These three hours make a lifelong memory for a lot of our guests,” said Rich Doyon, one of the event organizers and an Eastpoint Community Church youth leader. “Most guests register the first day, and we had one guest register seven times.”

Volunteer Danielle Borrelli of South Portland gave out crowns for guests, every one of whom is treated like a king or queen. “It’s one night where these kids get to be just kids,” she said. “It’s magical.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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