Two Greta Home youth receive royal treatment at A Night to Shine in Haiti
Their enchanted evening played out like a scene in a fairytale.
David smiled sheepishly but nevertheless looked quite dashing in his pinstriped shirt and black slacks.
Sabrina was resplendent in a one-shoulder gown, its vibrant shade of aqua mirroring the Caribbean Sea on a clear day.
Neither had ever attended a prom or enjoyed so much fanfare. As they strolled down the red carpet, bystanders applauded and cheered their grand entrance.
“There were a lot of lights,” said Sabrina, who seemed awestruck by the event.
The brightest lights though emanated from the stars in the room—people like Sabrina, David, and the dozens of youth who have lived for far too long in society’s shadows. It was finally their time to shine.
Finding Value and Acceptance
David and Sabrina don’t fit the mold of typical teenagers, and A Night to Shine is no ordinary high school dance.
David, 12, has severe autism and does not speak. Sabrina, 13, was born deaf.
Both endured years of rejection until they found a new family at the Greta Home and Academy, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, in Léogâne, Haiti. There they’re learning they are precious children of their heavenly Father.
A Night to Shine, started in 2015 by the Tim Tebow Foundation, gives children with disabilities an opportunity to have fun, make new friends, and bask in the limelight normally afforded to movie stars and celebrities. David and Sabrina were among more than 32,000 honored guests in 200 locations across 48 states and seven countries.
Haiti’s A Night to Shine celebration was a mere 10-minute car ride from the Greta Home. It was also held in a location that is familiar to David—his school.
The special needs center is operated by myLIFEspeaks, a humanitarian organization that focuses on orphan care and prevention, education, and public health in Haiti. Hosting the event in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation, the organization also provided the suits and dresses for prom guests.
And the “icing on the cake” was the special guest in attendance—Tim Tebow himself!
Rhode, one of the caretakers at the Greta Home, attended the prom with her two young charges. She kept an eye on David, who was sitting with a classmate and enjoying his tasty dinner. Then she turned to check on Sabrina, who was dancing and laughing with her friends.
“This event tells them they are important in society and have value,” Rhode said. “Some of the children can’t talk or do other things. But at this party they are encouraged to believe, ‘yes, you can.’”
In November 2012, a disheveled child was seen wandering the streets of a community about an hour’s drive from Léogâne. He looked lost and alone. An official from the Ministry of Social Affairs picked him up and took him to the Greta Home and Academy.
The staff members knew nothing about the whereabouts of his family, and because the child was unable to speak, they didn’t know his exact age or even his name.
Penny Fairo, the director of the Greta Home and Academy, sought God’s insight and chose to call him “David,” after King David in the Bible. She said 1 Samuel 16:7 came to mind.
Fairo encouraged the staff to see David as God sees him—considering his heart instead of his outward appearance and behavior.
The verse was fitting, as some of the workers were afraid of him. In Haiti it’s commonly believed that people with handicaps or mental disabilities have a demonic spirit living in them.
“When David first came, he was very traumatized and standoffish,” Fairo said. “He would not eat any of the food we gave him, and he would bite himself and others around him. The staff thought he had an evil spirit, so they didn’t want to be near him.
“I told them David is unique, and God loves him just as much as the other children. We need to care for him and love him as we do all the others.”
They saw an immediate change in David’s behavior and development when he began attending the school run by myLIFEspeaks.
“His teachers have helped us to understand how we can communicate with him,” said one of the supervisors at the Greta Home. “They have been teaching him sign language, which is very helpful for us. He interacts with the children much better now. He plays with them, watches movies with them, and feels comfortable around them.”
David showed no trepidation as his friends at the Greta Home helped him prepare for his special evening at the prom. Before boarding the van, he grabbed the hands of two of the staff members and began jumping up and down. Although he couldn’t speak, the irrepressible joy he displayed communicated volumes.
Deaf since birth, Sabrina has faced similar hurdles of feeling trapped inside a world of silence.
Those challenges were amplified as Sabrina’s family lacked the resources to send her to a school where she could learn sign language. Unable to provide for even her most basic needs, an aunt brought her and her cousins to the Greta Home.
The move proved to be a great blessing for Sabrina. She was able to attend a school for the hearing-impaired in Port-au-Prince, where she learned sign language and made friends.
In September 2015, Samaritan’s Purse and MSNBC commentator Greta Van Susteren arranged for Sabrina to come to the U.S. to determine if they could free her further from her silent cocoon. Diagnostic tests revealed Sabrina could only hear 10 percent of the sounds around her.
Fortunately, no surgery was needed. When Sabrina was fitted with a pair of hearing aids, she told the audiologist the first sound she hoped to hear was music.
“So I can dance,” she signed to the doctor.
Since then, Sabrina’s world has expanded far beyond anything she could have imagined. She has learned how to distinguish sounds and has received some speech therapy. Best of all, she can enjoy music.
That made her milestone experience at A Night to Shine all the more memorable. Taking full advantage of this extraordinary evening, Sabrina danced the night away.
Every prom selects a king and a queen, but A Night to Shine capped off the royal affair by presenting each guest with either a golden crown or a white tiara.
It was the pinnacle moment for both Sabrina and David. Neither could stop beaming as the crowns were placed on their heads. The coronation delighted their Greta Home chaperones, too, who gushed with pleasure as they gave the youths congratulatory hugs.
More than anyone else, they know the ups and downs of the journey that David and Sabrina have traveled from rejection to red carpet accolades. And they know that a difficult road still lies ahead.
They hope that the love they are pouring into the lives of these two beautiful children of God will make a difference. Some of the fruits of their investment are already evident.
Sabrina has become more confident and joyful since receiving the gift of hearing. David is breaking out of his shell gradually. The Greta Home staff members share high hopes that he will one day find his voice too.
“Love and patience can accomplish a lot,” said one caretaker. “They can change everyone and everything.”