ADAMS TWP — The flashbulbs along the red carpet combined with the flashing sequins on the parade of formal gowns were no match for the megawatt smiles on the faces of 60 very special guests at “A Night to Remember” on Friday evening.
The event, organized by Discovery Christian Church in Cranberry Township, treated those ages 16 to 30 with developmental, physical or mental disabilities to a formal evening of dinner, dancing and socializing at Twelve Oaks Mansion on Scharberry Lane.
Discovery church members donated gowns for the gala affair, and a small army of stylists from Bella Capelli Academy in Monroeville treated the guests to makeovers at the nearby Heritage Creek clubhouse and Capelli Salon.
The cheerful stylists chatted with the excited guests as they curled and pinned up hair, applied makeup, and painted nails to produce a bevy of beaming glamour girls.
Local tuxedo shops offered discounted prices for the gentlemen, each of whom cut a dapper figure.
After the makeovers were complete, four limousines whisked wave after wave of elegant revelers to the entrance at Twelve Oaks Mansion, where a red carpet lined with friends and family cheered each guest as they were announced.
“Paparazzi” from Discover church, alongside the guests' family members, snapped pictures, shouted compliments, and applauded as each guest enjoyed the star treatment during the red carpet walk.
One posh partygoer, Jacob Schaffner, 22, of West Sunbury, smiled widely and waved to fans as he strolled the carpet with his buddy for the evening, Discovery's head pastor, Toney Salva.
“I just wanted to have a good time, and I heard Jacob really likes to party,” Salva said.
Jacob enjoyed the limo ride, and looked forward to the chicken dance and electric slide.
“And I hope they play Kenny Chesney,” Jacob said as he waited to have his picture taken in the decked-out lobby after his arrival.
Salva said the decision to go ahead with the ambitious project was an easy one for Discovery Christian Church.
“It's important that everyone gets the opportunity to have a good time,” Salva said. “We believe the guests that are here tonight are the people Jesus would party with.”
Bryan Gratton, pastor of adult ministries at Discovery, took the opportunity to deck himself out in white shoes, sport coat and sunglasses paired with a silk bow tie and vest in matching teal. Black slacks and a white tuxedo shirt rounded out his unique ensemble.
“I'm definitely very excited to see a lot of people with a lot of joy tonight,” said Gratton.
He said he and a large contingent of volunteers from Discovery, all of whom also sported formal attire, planned to learn how to improve next year's event.
“We're already talking about what we can do different and better next year,” Gratton said. “We'd like to double the numbers and have even more individuals with special needs enjoy this event.”
Gratton said the gala cost upward of $20,000, and the entire cost was covered by donations from the community and funds raised at the church.
Katie Hetrick of Sharpsville, Alicia Rose of Cranberry Township, Regina Manni of Bellevue, and Helenka Foley of New Sewickley sparkled in their gowns and professional hair and makeup.
As stylists applied their cosmetics and painted their nails, the pampered ladies said they most looked forward to dancing and riding in the limousines.
“It's awesome,” Helenka said of the event. “It inspires everyone to help kids with special needs.”
Ryan Cenk of Cranberry Township said “A Night to Remember” would demonstrate to the nondisabled the experience of individuals with special needs.
“I think it's really awesome that they would throw a party for people with disabilities,” Ryan said. “I love this.”
Inside Twelve Oaks Mansion, popular music played as partygoers seated themselves at the formal, candlelit tables. Dinner, dancing, a balloon artist, magician and an origami artist entertained the delighted guests.
Colleen Cenk, Ryan's mother, echoed the thoughts of all the moist-eyed parents and caregivers who attended the event.
“They get to be a star for the evening.”