Night to Remember was founded in 2007 by Ashley McNary, Executive Director of Ministries at Heartland Church in Sun Prairie, WI. The story of Night to Remember begins all the way back on Ashley’s first day of Kindergarten, when her mom told her “Look for the person that doesn’t have anyone to sit by, and invite them to sit by you.” Ashley has carried that mantra forward throughout her life, choosing to use her eyes to really see people. It became her goal that no one would ever would feel left out, but instead feel celebrated and valued.
In 2007, Ashley was working in Student Ministries at a church in Rockford, IL and brainstorming ideas on how to invite the students to live beyond themselves. Her idea was to create a party of pure celebration for students with special needs, and give students in her ministry the opportunity to connect with and honor each of those individuals. Her team rallied around the event and on May 4th, 2007, the first Night to Remember took place.
In 2015, Night to Remember was first held in the greater Madison area at Heartland Church in Sun Prairie, WI. That year, we had 40 guests join us!
In 2017, we had already outgrown Heartland's church space, and the event was moved to Monona Terrace in Madison, WI to allow for expansion.
2018 was an exciting year of growth and change for Madison's Night to Remember. Melissa Shutwell was named the Executive Director of Night to Remember; and Henry Sanders from Selfless Ambition partnered with Heartland Church to celebrate even more honored guests in even bigger ways! Junior guests were welcomed at the event for the first time. And we had 200 guests join us overall!
Now in our 6th year hosting within the greater Madison area, Night to Remember is a strong community collaboration between Heartland Church and countless other churches and organizations within the greater Madison Area.
Ashley's idea 12 years ago has spurred similar ideas all around the nation. We love seeing the idea spread year over year and the impact it has made within the special needs community -- and are thankful that the person behind that idea, Ashley, is still part of our team.
If you ask anyone about the night - whether it is an honored guest, a volunteer or a parent - we guarantee they would not say it was the dress or tuxedo that made the night. It wasn’t the jewelry or the venue - it was the celebration. One of the best parts of the night is when each guest is announced by name and they walk the red carpet to a crowd of cheering fans. In this moment you can see the love they feel. You can see that celebration - of who they are - means more than anything.
At the end of the 2019 event, a mother stopped a volunteer and shared it was the first time she’d seen her son smile in 2.5 months. And he hadn’t stopped smiling the whole night. This is one example of the impact the night has on our honored guests. Through Night to Remember, barriers are broken, friendships are formed, and smiles are found again. It is truly an opportunity for community members and local organizations to live beyond themselves. Together, we help create an experience that is remarkable so that EVERY guest feels celebrated and loved.
In 2020 and 2021 we made the decision to change our event due to COVID-19 safety. We hosted A Day to Remember, and we took the party to our guests! Party crews made up of 5-10 people headed out throughout Dane County to visit guests at their homes. We rolled out the red carpet, turned on the bubble machines and music, and had a COVID-safe dance party with our guests. We had super cool party boxes and yard signs and did what we do best -- celebrated our guests!
Hear more of our story from Executive Director, Melissa Shutwell and Founder, Ashley McNary at the 2018 Q Commons event in Madison, WI: