We teach our children early to play well with others, but not to play for others. They grow. Eventually questions we all grapple with arise - Who Am I? and How Will I Give of That? They spend their teenage years floundering to surface, to find answers.
Ten years ago, Jen Band began the nonprofit, Playing For Others, to help teenagers answer these questions, giving them a creative place to build relationships, tell stories, explore, creating a more compassionate world one relationship at a time.
Every year 75 teenagers from schools across Charlotte, from different families, races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds, are focusing on answering who they are through personal development training, leadership and the arts, as well as the relationship part, the Buddy Program. Two teenagers are paired with a child who has a disability and the child’s sibling. They go to pet stores, trick or treating, to dinner, the movies, and like one teen said, "We are realizing it's about showing up. You never know the impact you're going to have on someone. About being there, about being that loving person, about being a friend."
The Buddy Program “is all about building real relationships and realizing people are people are people," Band says. Her background in working up and down the East Coast at camps for children who have disabilities coupled with her theatrical prowess lead her to begin Playing For Others.
Every year PFO selects 12 nonprofit honorees and the teens bring their missions to life by creating digital arts pieces, performances and visual arts. Again, the teens find themselves playing for others. As Band puts it, "It's really about honoring other people. Our buddies and the nonprofits and these people and the work we do. We want to show, 'Hey, we see you, and the work you do.' It's the next generation that's going to be our leaders, philanthropists" and because of that Jen encourages the teenagers to be the storytellers for PFO, fundraising with stories, instead of gift wrap - stories of the time spent with their buddies, of the time invested in their art, of the quest to better understand themselves and what they treasure.
"There's a big difference in asking for money or asking people to invest in incredible work. It's pretty amazing to hear the stories from our donors about their experiences with teens," Band says. "From the beginning it was about teaching teens what you're passionate about, giving of time, talent and treasure--philanthropy."
Learn more about their stories, their time spent with buddies, their talent invested in storytelling about PFO and the selected nonprofit's missions, and their treasure--what they spent the year searching to answer--in the 10th anniversary compilation of alumni stories, or as Band calls it, "Chicken Soup for the PFO Lover's Soul," and be on the lookout for their annual Big Night of Gratitude event. This is a night when Band says she is "blown away by [the teenagers'] talent and their inspiration." The teens pull inspiration from interviewing 10 changemakers in Charlotte, doing work in the community to raise up Charlotte, and then they create visual and performance art depicting the changemakers' visions. And you can attend and be a part of the storytelling, the listening, the showing up to level up the good in Charlotte.