Hi there! My name is Ella Jarrett and I’m a PFO alumni! I was first introduced to Playing For Others in 6th grade, when I joined the cast of Pied Piper as a rat. I was too young to be a teen in the program, but since our first rehearsal for the show, I was hooked! I counted down the days until I was finally an 8th grader and able to apply, and I nervously arrived at my first retreat in August of 2012, ready to take on my first year in PFO.
My first year was amazing, and I started to understand that PFO was more than just a musical or performance. I continued on for my 2nd year in PFO as a 9th grader, and the buddy program quickly became my favorite part! My buddy, Luke, grew immensely during his year as a PFO buddy, and he taught me so much about myself as well. I was in the dance experience, children’s book committee, loving buddy events, all was well. Then, my dad broke the news to my family.
I still remember what it felt like when I stood in the hallway of Creative Campus and told Jen that I was moving. Holding back tears, I explained to her that I was leaving Charlotte, and therefore PFO, too soon. In that moment, Virginia felt like it was an ocean away.
The summer before my 10th grade year in school, my family and I packed up and moved to our new town of Lexington. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was nothing like PFO there. I felt like I had no passion or worth without having PFO in my life. So, I reached out to Jen and told her my problem. I asked her, “what I should do without a PFO here?” She replied “why can’t you bring PFO to you?”
With Jen’s response in mind, I started talking to my friends in Lexington, telling them about PFO, and letting them know that I wanted to start my own nonprofit, and bring a piece of PFO to Virginia.
Over the next two years, I created a nonprofit called Project Connection. Project Connection is an organization that pairs teens in Lexington with children with disabilities and their siblings through a buddy program quite similar to PFO’s. Project Connection thrived through my junior and senior years in high school, and I finally felt the joy and passion that PFO had given me in Charlotte!
Now, I am a high school graduate. Project Connection is being passed on to a new president in Lexington (who is also a high school student), and this season, we will have 55 teens and 28 buddies in our program. We even added a new aspect of our organization – including children that speak English as a second language in our buddy program alongside children with disabilities and their siblings!
I’m taking a gap year before college, and am spending the first half of my year interning with PFO (I love it already!). As excited as I am to be back in the PFO space, the one thing I’ve learned through my PFO journey is that PFO is not a place. PFO is not just Charlotte. PFO is an attitude, a passion for action, a feeling of belonging and worth. Anyone can take PFO with them wherever they go! PFO is in your words, your ideas, your actions. I know I’ll be taking PFO with me wherever I go, and I hope you will too.