MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Heisman trophy winner and two-time national champion Tim Tebow visited Memphis on Thursday.
Tebow spoke about next week's "Night to Shine" event, which is a special prom night for people with special needs. Tebow said inspiration struck when he was 15 years old on a mission trip to the Philippines in Southeast Asia.
"It wasn't until I was in a very remote jungle of the Philippines that I got to meet a boy with his feet on backwards and the rest of the village looked at him as cursed," Tebow said. "I got to loving this young man and caring about him and when I left, just felt so much for this young man named Sherwin. I felt so inspired by him that when I left, as a 15-year-old boy I wanted to be the best athlete I could be, but what I want to do with my life is fight for people like this."
Tebow said he wanted to ensure everyone felt special and felt loved.
"He (Sherwin) had two friends that stood with him at all times and would carry him around and the rest of the village wouldn't touch him because they believed if they touched him they would be cursed," Tebow said. "I knew at that time this is the people I want to fight for. I want to fight for people like Sherwin."
Tebow said attending prom is something that makes a person feel special. That's why they chose "prom" over any other event they could host.
"A prom for a lot of kids when they get to go, it means 'beautiful'. It means 'princess'," Tebow said. "We're putting them on a pedestal for a night. We're saying, 'You matter.' We're saying, 'You have worth.' We're cheering for you as you go down our red carpet. We're cheering for you the entire night and then we're giving you the crown, we're giving you the tiara. We're saying you're the queen, you're the king because that's how we believe God looks at you every single day of your life."
For Tebow, being able to cheer for the children is something special and something many of the people who attend the event will never forget.
"In my life, there have been a lot of times that I've heard people cheer for me, people celebrate different things that I've done," Tebow said. "Can you imagine if you've never had anyone clap for you? If you've never heard anyone say 'I love you, we're proud of you, you matter.' For a lot of these kids, they've never had that. They've never had anyone tell them they're worthy, that they're special, that they're loved. This might be the first time."
The first year the Tim Tebow Foundation hosted "A Night to Shine," 44 churches in three countries participated. Last year, the event grew to 201 locations in 48 states and in seven different countries. However, this year is the largest one yet. It will be held across all 50 states in 375 locations and in 11 different countries.
"My goal is hopefully this will be around the world one day," Tebow said. "There are people in every city that need to hear there's a God that loves them, there are people that care about them, that they have worth, they have matter and we can bring that to them."
Tebow said his goal is to one day have "A Night to Shine" in every city in the world to provide the chance for every child to feel special. But, he said it's not just for children with special needs.
"It's not just for people with special needs. It's for people with life threatening illnesses, for people that thought they weren't enough," Tebow said.
Tebow said when the idea was first presented to him about having a prom for special needs children, he said he knew immediately it's something he wanted to do all over the world.
"It was to bring faith, hope, and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need. I came up with that mission statement with those like Sherwin in mind," Tebow said.
Tebow said they have already seen a culture shift in the way of thinking for many based on the way the volunteers treat the children for "Night to Shine."
"We were also in Haiti for one of them and we got to see the culture change. Literally, the people they throw away with special needs and throw away on the side of the street like - literally- we're picking up on the side of the street and we're bringing them in," Tebow said. "The next morning, the people in the village came to us and said, 'Next year, when you help those people, can we help those people with you?' And we just got to see the culture change."
Tebow met with WMC Action News 5's Jerica Phillips for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
Tebow said the rewards for doing such an event are great enough that no matter the cost.
"Parents coming up to us saying, 'My daughter, she'll never get married, she'll never have kids, but tonight she felt like a princess,'" Tebow said, reflecting on the impact the event has on those who have attended. "If it was just for one of them, we would still do it just for one."
"Every single thing we do is about fighting for people that can't fight for themselves," Tebow said.
This year's "Night to Shine" in Memphis will be held February 10 at Hope Presbyterian Church with an estimated 300 honored guests and 900 volunteers expected to attend.