When I first heard about Playing for Others from a friend of mine, I was concerned with the amount of time it would consume in my already-hectic life. After pondering over this difficult decision for months, it came as a shock when it took less than one day for me to get completely hooked on Playing for Others!
From the moment I walked in the door of the Playing for Others” summer retreat on August 26, I felt loved. It”s hard to find a group more genuinely caring and accepting than that of the teenagers who make up this incredible organization. Upon completing the retreat on August 29, I came home as more than just a member of PFO; I came home as part of a new family. In a brief four days, I learned more about love, passion, inclusion, leadership, and fun than I have in my entire life! I can truthfully say that working with everyone in PFO has already begun to change my perspective.
It”s difficult to put the passion of nearly 70 teenagers into words. Personally, I am still in awe of the sheer happiness I feel in knowing that a singular organization contains the service, character, learning, and friendship I have been craving for so long. I love to reciprocate the blessings that I”ve been given, and PFO embodies that spirit through the work we do for our community. I cannot believe how lucky I am to be a part of the Playing for Others family.
More than anything, it”s the buddy events that I look forward to. Being highly influential in someone else”s life will help me learn to be a role model. I hope that I will grow in my leadership skills in this way, but, in truth, I know that my buddy will probably teach me more than I could ever teach her. I cannot wait for this year to get started, and to see where the incredible nature of Playing for Others will take me.
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As parents of a child with special abilities, we don’t often see others actively seek out our child. At the park or in a store, we hear parents (with the intention of kindness) guide their children out of our son’s way so as not to bother him. Children can grow up learning to avoid special people, like our son Brian. This is a loss for everyone.
Although his inability to communicate and to initiate and maintain play with others makes him appear a loner, this characterization is far from true! Brian loves to be around people — to dance, be touched, held, loved, talked to, or just see what is going on.
Our first buddy event last Sunday was a tremendous experience for us. We saw 60+ happy, energetic teens with Playing for Others (PFO) pair up and greet “buddies” and focus on getting to know them and just spending time together — playing at their buddies’ pace. Everyone had so much fun. I couldn’t tell who had more fun, the PFO teenagers or their buddies! There was singing and dancing, laughing, coloring, splashing, hugging, and more smiling than you could ever hope to see. We saw other children explore and learn how to play and meaningfully interact with Brian and others from Metro.
As a parent, it was wonderful to see our son play with his buddies. That night, he went to bed with such a smile of contentment that only comes from a thoroughly enjoyable day.
- Chris & Cecilia Duignan
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Dear PFO family both near and far,
Sunday afternoon, September 12, I sat on a picnic table in front of 61 teens right before they were about to meet their buddies from the Metro School for the first time. At one point in the conversation I said, “Today is about a lot of things. One of those is teaching, and one of those is learning. You are going to learn a whole lot about your buddy and my guess is that they, not necessarily you, are going to be some of the best teachers you’ve ever had.” For the next hour and a half, I walked around the park and watched. They were going down slides together, playing in the sprayground, running and chasing each other, coloring, hanging out on blankets and smiling. It was an hour and a half of being in the moment…it was beautiful.
Afterwards I asked by show of hands who had learned something about their buddies that day. Every hand went up. Then I asked whose buddies taught them something that day. Every hand went up. Then I asked who learned something about themselves that day. Slowly and thoughtfully every hand went up.
Isn’t it amazing the lessons life teaches us by experience or by the people placed in our path?
For the teens, the PFO Season kicked off at our annual retreat at Whitehead Manor August 26 – 29. For myself and the teens in leadership positions (Chairs & Teen Executive members), we’ve been preparing for this season since last June. And in the vein of learning from others, I’d like to share a few things I learned from those teens over the summer:
▪ Jumping into a pool fully clothed is almost always a good idea
▪ A home-cooked meal is far better than sandwiches
▪ Empowering others is where it’s at
▪ Tacos should never be eaten on white couches
▪ If you’re going to cover someone in paint, be sure to have towels to clean up afterwards
▪ Early-morning walks can initiate crazy conversation
▪ Writing a cheer is not as easy as one might think
▪ What you see is not always what you get
▪ Silent Bear is never not fun
▪ Listening is an art form
▪ When doing something for the first time, don’t use a front yard
▪ Life is a practice, not a performance
I have no doubt that the learning opportunities will continue throughout the year and I’m excited to take the journey with you, our big PFO family. Teachers come in all shapes and sizes and experiences happen all the time. My wish for this season is that everyone learn a little about themselves, learn a little about someone else, and learn a whole lot about the kind of person they want to be in this world.
Here’s to another incredible year of creating change!
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Raising teenagers to become proactive and caring members of their community often feels like ‘Mission Impossible’. Their minds and hearts yearn for independence, while the world they live in becomes increasingly centered on peers and popular culture. As parents we all experience the moments of fear: “Have I done everything possible to teach them to love and care for others? Are these friends real friends? Will they erode the values we’ve tried so hard to instill? Where can they find activities that are enriching and valuable? Are they really going to type their whole senior exit project via text message?
For us these questions loomed larger than life, but changed dramatically when Molly joined Playing for Others. While it took John and me an entire year of PFO to really learn what this strange and magical organization was all about…we immediately saw changes in Molly that convinced us this was an amazing opportunity for her.
After the first retreat we were awed as she described the personal awareness and growth she experienced and the inclusion and acceptance she felt from a room of 60 teenage peers. This positive attitude did not diminish that first year, and in fact has increased each year Molly has been in PFO. The fellow PFO teens are the kind of friends all parents wish for. The accomplishments made individually with the buddies, and as a group toward a common goal are largely unprecedented and unique for teens. We could not wait for our daughter Chloe to follow Molly’s lead and join PFO as well.
While we certainly have moments of “We have to drive you where?” and “You are spending 10 hours this weekend doing what for PFO?” one thing remains constant and true. Playing for others is an incredible influence in our daughters’ lives, and one that has quieted many of the concerned questions we faced as our children began their teenage years. We are so very thankful for this amazing organization and what it has brought to our lives.
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Friends and family will get a brand new window into what goes on in PFO this fall, part of a new program called Journey Groups.
Each teen has invited people special to her or him to come along on the PFO journey through the year. These folks make up that teen’s Journey Group. Each month, everyone in that teen’s group will be able to watch a short video blog, or read a brief blog entry, through a special link to the PFO website.
In the blogs, teens will talk about their very personal experiences that month: the excitement and nervousness about meeting their buddy for the first time, for example, or the gift of that buddy’s smile at their first collaboration in the arts. Journey Group members will get to see and feel the teen’s developing leadership skills, arts adventures and philanthropic expertise. And, because it’s PFO, you know there will be a few surprises and hilarity along the way!
If you’re a part of a teen’s Journey Group, you’ll get an e-mail note when the new blog entry is posted each month. If you’re not on someone’s list, but would like to be, let executive director Jen Band know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Come along as the 2010-11 PFO Journey begins!
Check out the blogs here!
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