The first Night to Shine event was held at Embry-Riddle Feb. 12.
I always thought having a twin would be a kinda like having a built-in best friend for life. Someone you can always turn to and who you can count on to be there for the important moments, like your high school prom.
There have been hundreds of times Mandy Brock has wished she could have that close relationship with her own twin sister, Casey Brock. But with Casey's autism, it makes it difficult sometimes for her to be apart of the same things Mandy is — and the reminder of that is almost constant.
"We have another pair of twins at school," Mandy, a 16-year-old sophomore at Seabreeze High School said, "and they do everything together. Watching that is like what it could be versus what it is."
And for awhile, the reality was that Mandy and Casey Brock wouldn't be able to experience prom together; the stress of the evening being too much for Casey to handle. But leaving her sister out of the norm was a reality that Mandy Brock was tired of accepting.
So she wrote a letter to the Tim Tebow Foundation, asking them to host a prom for special needs children and adults called Night to Shine, right here in Volusia County. To her surprise and joy, they said yes.
"My sister Casey has autism and just wants to be treated how other kids her age are treated. To be granted this opportunity would give her and her friends a chance to feel like the other kids, even if it is just for one night. I have a chance to make this happen for her, and I know if it works out, she will be so happy. It will be a night she will never forget, and I believe everyone deserves a night like that. Not only would this opportunity benefit my sister, it would also include all of the special needs kids in the county. Our community has never been a part of something like this and it would be really special for these kids to have this experience."
— The letter that Mandy Brock wrote to the Tim Tebow Foundation
"She's not a fan of getting dressed up, but she is a fan of socializing," Mandy said. "Just being in a zone where she can mingle without having to worry about being judged, she'll feel like she's fitting in. In the high school environment, that's hard enough for any person, but especially her."
Night to Shine was held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Feb. 12, in collaboration with Christ Presbyterian Church of Ormond Beach. Guests enjoyed a red carpet entrance with a friendly paparazzi, limousine rides, hair and makeup stations, shoe shining areas and a killer dance floor.
And in the spirit of fitting in, Casey Brock was one of over 130 guests who were crowned prom king and queen.
"I get so emotional," said Jan Brock, Mandy and Casey's mother.
"Mom, relax," Mandy said as her mom tried to fight off the tears. "I'll speak for her. She feels happy about it."
"I appreciate her taking the effort," Jan said after a few deep breaths. "As a mom, it's easy for me to want things like that, but to have a sibling take an interest in it...and her big sister coming into town, I'm just so proud. It's all good thoughts."
Growing up 'twinning'
Mandy Brock knew always something different about her and Casey's relationship.
"I can't remember the moment," 16-year-old Mandy Brock said, "but when I could start talking and she couldn't...she'd just always be one step behind. I'd ask my parents 'Why can't she do this?'"
Despite the hardships, they've always made an affort to support each other. Casey attends Mandy's soccer games, and Mandy comes to her speech therapy, and they both enjoy family time together out on the boat.
"Growing up she'd see me do all these things and deep down she wants to do them," Mandy said, "and she can but she just can't get there. It's hard because once you tell someone your twins, they want to hear all about it. She has special needs, and it's not a bad things, but it's just different."
Mandy said there's misconception that people don't understand full reality of living with someone with special needs and the unique difficulties the family has to face. But no matter the struggles they've faced, they've always faced them together.
"I can't change anything about her, but I can make it possible for her to do some things," Mandy said. "Helping her is important, and this is how I can help her."
Kidds Are First donates 72 dresses
Kidds Are First, a charity that gives children in the foster care system basic essentials like decent clothing, toys, sporting goods and education materials, received 72 dresses for Night to Shine participants. Secretary Natalie McCall said they received the donations and four more volunteers from Plantation Bay after a story about the organization ran in the last edition of the Plantation Bay Observer.
The charity also operate KRFashions, located in Ormond Beach, which helps struggling kids feel like they have a real shopping experience.