I started my PFO journey back in 2009 when I applied to be a part of the program as a teen. As a 16 year old, I had no idea what to expect from applying, and had many doubts about whether or not I would even get in – applying to Playing for Others was my teenage version of a leap of faith. I have had a lifelong struggle with my self-confidence, or really, my lack thereof. I went through most of my high school life feeling like I didn’t belong, and like everyone else was so far ahead of me. I felt stuck behind, alone, and unworthy of the experience I so desperately wanted.

Surprisingly, to my 16 year old self at least, I got my acceptance letter shortly after I had applied and hopped on the roller coaster that has been my PFO journey. I was thrust into the middle of the most accepting, loving, encouraging, funny, giving, and talented (really, the list of positive adjectives could go on, but for time’s sake, I’ll stop now) group of teenagers that I had ever met and somehow, I was one of them.

After the first night of the annual retreat, where all of the teens and advisors come together to learn more about the program and to bond as an organization, I got into my dad’s car completely overwhelmed. I didn’t understand how I had stumbled into this organization. I didn’t know how I had managed to become a part of a family, outside of my own, filled with people who genuinely cared about me and wanted me to be around. I just couldn’t understand it, so I convinced myself that my getting into PFO was just a fluke. I learned so much during my 2 years as a PFO teen about self-acceptance, love, and community. I left PFO feeling ready to take on the after-high-school life with my head held high.

Two years later, I had graduated from AmeriCorps’ City Year program and was back in Charlotte taking classes at the local community college. Again, I was in a place of unbelonging, and I felt just as lost as to where I was going as I had before PFO. I still knew what I had learned during my time in PFO, but had lost that meaning when it came to showing that love and acceptance to myself. I put back on those feelings of unworthiness and felt I didn’t deserve the good things that seemed to come so easily to those around me.

Out of the blue in 2013, I shot a text to Jen Band (PFO’s Executive Director), asking her to meet for dinner, just to catch up on life. I went into our meeting expecting nothing and not knowing my life was about to change, yet again. We sat in the Flying Biscuit on Park Road for a good 2 hours just talking about time, and what we each were doing now. I told her about how I was feeling and Jen, being Jen, up and offered me a year-long internship working in the PFO office – which I accepted as soon as the offer was out in the air.

I spent my year long internship working as hard as I could to give back to the organization everything it had given me when I was a teen. I grew deep and meaningful relationships with the current PFO teens and staff. I helped plan and execute events. I organized the office and helped ensure everyone had the support they needed. I helped stage-manage shows. I assisted the teens in creating art to honor Charlotte non-profits. I took in everything I could, and my hard work paid off. I joined the staff part time in 2014 and became a full time staff member in 2015.

PFO has taught me an incredible amount of things, but most importantly, it has taught me that each and every person on this earth is deserving of love and belonging – even me. I deserve the good things that come to me. I deserve to belong. I deserve to be loved by others. I deserve, more than anything, the right to love myself – every single unconventionally beautiful and quirky thing about me. And you deserve those things too!

My getting into PFO, way back in 2009, was no fluke. I know now that I was accepted into PFO for a reason, and that I am here now, on staff, for a reason. I am supposed to be here, teaching the teens about self love, and about how they deserve every wonderfully magical thing that comes their way. I am meant to be here, supporting my fellow staff and advisors, assuring them that yes, we are changing the lives of others. I deserve to be here now, still learning that even though I don’t always feel like a vibrant, impactful, worthwhile human-being…I always am.