DICKSON CITY — Zak Kongvold, 21, of East Benton is the oldest of four siblings. He loves music, football and people.
A volunteer door greeter at Parker Hill Church, Dickson City campus, he was described by Jared Brandon, the church’s director of communications, as possibly “the friendliest, most enthusiastic person at our church.”
Kongvold was born with Down syndrome and has participated in many dances and sporting events through area organizations such as the Special Olympics, the Challenger League and the Arc Recreation Program. And on Friday, Feb. 12, he will be one of approximately 100 honored guests at a regional prom for people with special needs, age 16 and older with no maximum age limit.
Night to Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at Parker Hill’s Dickson City campus, one of more than 190 churches around the world to simultaneously host the event. The church, which also has campuses in Clarks Summit and Wilkes-Barre, is accepting registrations for the free event until all 100 tickets are accounted for, online at parkerhill.org/shine. Those without internet access may also register by calling 570-341-8383, extension 26.
“It’s incredible,” Kongvold’s parents, Freedom and Kelly Kongvold, said via email when asked what the event means to their family. “It’s truly exciting for us as parents that Zak is going to have a night that people other than us show him how valuable he is through their actions and not just words. We love Northeast Pennsylvania. This is such a great place to live. To have an event like this and see the outpouring of volunteers and resources from the whole community to make it spectacular is a reminder of that.”
According to Jason Castelli, pastor of ministry development, the church quickly met its maximum need of 350 volunteers to help with the various aspects of event, including food service, hair styling and make-up, shoe-shining, flowers, tech, check-in, “buddies” to hang out one-one-one with the guests all night and even a “paparazzi” team of friendly photographers and “cheerers” to create the sense of a crowd, as the guests enter the party via a red carpet.
“From the day we opened it, responses have just been pouring in,” Castelli said. “And it’s really cool for us to see, probably 100 of those names, easily, aren’t people who are associated with the church at all. The first time we ever heard their name was just them contacting us, reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, we’re interested in volunteering.’”
He added volunteers underwent an extensive background check, to ensure the safety of the guests.
Each guest at Night to Shine will be treated as a VIP, the highlight moment arriving when everyone is crowned a king or queen of the prom. Parents and caregivers will be able to witness this, along with the rest of the evening’s celebrations, via a live stream set up in another part of the building, where they can enjoy their own coffee bar.
Freedom and Kelly Kongvold, who also helped organize the event, plan to volunteer during Night to Shine, helping out with the “buddies,” greeting guests and doing whatever is needed.
The family began attending Parker Hill Church around 2000 and felt welcomed there ever since.
“The church community has always made us feel welcome and supported Zak’s involvement,” the couple said via email. “Through the years he was part of the student ministry programming and started volunteering as a dancer at our monthly Kidz Jam show on the first Friday of the month. He is now a door greeter and loves seeing everyone and finding out what football team they like. He tells me almost every Sunday of the new friend he met and what team they like.
“The church has reminded us through teaching and more importantly actions that we are all made by the same loving and incredible God. Our role is to show this consuming love to each other whenever we can. This event is one opportunity to do just that.”
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.