Mattea Heffernan walks the red carpet during A Night to Shine, a prom for people with disabilities, at the Canvas Church in Kalispell, Mont.

Teen attends first prom with Night to Shine


A full day before Mattea Heffernan was set to walk along the red carpet to attend her first formal event, Night to Shine, the 19-year-old Kalispell lady was altogether elated.

Mattea knew Night to Shine was about to happen across the globe and said being able to share the dance with the world, “Makes me feel happier.”

Mattea Heffernan shows off the dress she'll wear to prom, A Night to Shine, at the Canvas Church in Kalispell, Mont.

Mattea Heffernan shows off the dress she’ll wear to prom, A Night to Shine, at the Canvas Church in Kalispell, Mont. Photo by Amy Joyner.

The big night came Friday, Feb. 12, 2016 in Kalispell, Mont., at the Canvas Church with sponsorship by the Tim Tebow Foundation. The second annual prom-style event is held for people with special needs ages 16 and older.

Mattea may not know Tebow and his history as an accomplished college quarterback and member of several NFL teams, but her happiness overflowed while speaking about the coming dance. Though born with a chromosome deletion that limits some of her learning, the event had Mattea focusing on formal fashion and dance.

Her delight didn’t even sway when 26 hours before the event, she misplaced her grandmother’s necklace meant to enhance her new gown. Her mother, Linda Heffernan, had taken Mattea shopping for that dress, but the daughter quickly clarified, “I picked it myself. …I liked the shape.” She chose a black velvet and chiffon frock, worn with a coordinating beaded, chiffon shawl the retail store gifted to her.

Linda said the mother/daughter bond started years before Mattea was even born and adopted by Linda and her husband, Bob. Already parents of four boys, all older than Mattea, Linda said she knew she would have a daughter one day. As an infant, Mattea joined the siblings, which are a combination of biological and adopted children.

Mattea Rose knows her name comes from family bonds. Linda explained that “Mattea” is the female version of Matthew in the Hebrew language, and means “gift through God.” Many generations of “Rose” are in Mattea’s roots.

What makes Mattea’s name her own is the teen’s ladylike manner of teaching its pronunciation.

She simply explained, “Say ‘Matt’, and ‘Tea’, to drink, if you please.”

Linda said, “She is all girl. She loves, loves, dancing. She loves to dress up; she loves people; she loves parties. …Fancy stuff.”

Mattea Heffernan walks the red carpet during a Night to Shine, a dance for people with disabilities 16 years and older.

Mattea Heffernan walks the red carpet during a Night to Shine, a dance for people with disabilities 16 years and older. Photo by Amy Joyner.

Night to Shine brought friendly paparazzi photograph 300,000 guests who danced in 48 states and eight countries. About 70,000 volunteers worldwide signed on, while 125 offered time in Kalispell to assist with Canvas Church’s inaugural event that welcomed 95 guests.

Escorted to the church by her father, Mattea was ready, and so appreciative of her complementary tiara and soft-blue corsage. Though stylists were available at hair and makeup stations, Mattea needed no help. With boundless energy at home, she self-fashioned her hair’s up-do.

Gentleman also had options before the red carpet – shoe shining stations, boutonnieres, hamming for cameras and dancing. Later, every guest was crowned as a king or queen of the prom.

As Mattea took center stage on the red carpet, she gave her dad a quick goodbye, tipped her head to sniff her flower and began gliding among lines of cheering supporters and throngs of cameras.

The volunteer photographers were organized by Mary Kay Wilson, discipleship pastor at Canvas. For months, Wilson became “creative in getting the word out.” She also received Tebow’s numerous event pallets.

“My biggest pallet was the one that held boxes of gift bags to give attendees as they left. … [There was] a whole lot of loot or ‘swag.’”

Find more photos of the dance at Canvas Church here.