Among the most valuable and what I feel can be the most important offering that Playing for Others provides PFO teens, volunteers, and staff is the opportunity to serve in various ways. But more than that, the concept of habit and consistency is what I find to be the most important thing that the teens can learn from being in Playing for Others. Habits stay with you. They become the fabric of your being. It is habits that people notice in you and get inspired by. What Playing for Others provides is not only the opportunity to develop great habits in word and deed, but it is the way THEY do service that I find can be the game changer. I believe that when you give people the tools to succeed, teach them to use them, and give them ample opportunity to practice what they’ve learned, then you can really make change – that’s exactly what the programs at Playing for Others do for the teens. The Buddy Program in particular is the initiative that I believe has the potential to be the most world changing. The Buddy Program at Playing for Others has been described as a program that:

“…fosters deep and meaningful relationships based on genuine acceptance and person-to-person connection. Each year, our PFO teens pair up with a child with a disability or their sibling – their “buddy” – for a year-long adventure. Through a series of monthly arts events, community outings, and opportunities to perform community service, lasting friendships form, and teens learn that people are people, regardless of ability, condition or diagnosis.”

There are many wonderful things Playing for Others does for the community, but I have been most impressed with the Buddy Program. As a volunteer I was able to see the culture and environment surrounding the Buddy Program from the time the teens meet their buddy to the activities that they do together. Before Playing for Others it had been years since I had volunteered with people with disabilities. I was nervous, mainly out of my desire to be sensitive to their needs and figuring how to address them and their families. I wasn’t sure the proper way to show respect to them and didn’t want to mess it up somehow.

What I learned was that just like every person, they want and deserve the same respect given to anyone else. Their families are the most loving and grateful people I have ever met. I have learned that when you take the time to place yourself in a situation to expand your comfort zone with a desire to serve and share your time with someone, the return on your investment pays dividends. It changes the way you treat others moving forward. It makes you sensitive to the people you come across.

Why is this program the most game changing? Because people with disabilities I believe represent a grossly underrepresented and largely ignored sector of our humanity’s diversity. I believe the greatest thing that Playing for Others produces is a well informed, confident, heart centric, accepting teenager. Participation in the Buddy program is key in developing them into our future leaders.

Time after time, through initiatives like the Buddy Program, Playing for Others teaches me something new about myself and how I can contribute positively to this world. The example set by the teens, staff, and advisors inspire me every day to be a better person, practice the good habit of service and encourage others to do the same.