Playing for Others: Night of Gratitude

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

Many times at typical awards shows, the awards are handed out to people who are already rich in adulation and recognition, a sort of self-congratulation for already being famous.

Fortunately, Playing for OthersNight of Gratitude (this Friday, October 6 at Booth Playhouse) is anything but typical. In fact, it could be considered the exact opposite of your typical awards show.

Instead of the honorees collecting awards that do little to effect change in their communities, the real stars of the show are the teens that Playing for Others works with, focusing on personal development, service, the arts, philanthropy, leadership, and much more.

A group of ten individuals from the Charlotte community are hand-selected by the PFO staff to participate in the Night of Gratitude. However, they don’t merely accept an award, smile and give a half-hearted speech. Instead, they will use their notoriety and accomplishments to inspire and motivate the teens, making the young leaders the stars of the night.

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

“The goal is to have this diverse group of honorees that represent all these different areas in Charlotte, and they each have their unique spin and their unique take on how to create change in the community.” Says Jen Band, Director of Playing for Others.

Not content with simply handing out awards and posing for pictures, the production will also include a number of songs and performances by the teens. Several multi-disciplinary performances will be showcased based on the teen’s interpretations of the honorees. Each piece is different, and includes everything from a cappella, full instrumental pieces, or spoken word performances.

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

Band hopes to use the community role models to challenge the teens. “We often ask [the teens] to answer the statement, ‘I am (blank)’, and it’s not a noun. It’s not, ‘I am a teacher, I am a leader, I am an artist’. Instead, it’s adjectives. So ‘I am compassionate, I am driven, I am inclusive, I am powerful’.

“When we have these Night of Gratitude honorees, now the teens have a role model of what that can look like. If they say, ‘I am compassionate’, and they are also passionate about the transgender community, or homelessness, creativity or whatever it is, then they have these role models that are also compassionate, and they’re combining their compassion with their passion to create that change in the world.”

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjo-1

Lara Americo

“I am overwhelmed by the honor of being a part of the Night of Gratitude.” says Lara Americo, one of the 2017 honorees. “I am just happy that there is a group that does this kind of thing in Charlotte.”

Make plans to be at the Booth Playhouse this Friday, October 6 at 8 p.m. for the Night of Gratitude. Get your tickets at PlayingForOthers.org (or you can just click here).

“The best thing people can do to help out is to come and bring other people with them.” says Band. “It’s all about not just spreading the word, which is great, but it’s really secondary to celebrating all the great work people are doing in Charlotte. Let’s inspire others to do the same thing!”

Finally, if you’re in the audience, remember to use wiggly fingers, instead of clapping, which is the official PFO way of showing love and gratitude.

Photos from previous Night of Gratitude events courtesy of Playing for Others. Photo of Lara Americo courtesy of Lara Americo.

Seven Questions with Jen Band of Playing for Others

Jen-Band-Playing-for-Others

Jen Band of Playing for Others. Photo courtesy of thesavageway.com

People with disabilities, especially children, often times miss out on some of the joy and wonder than most of us take for granted as we grow up. Events like birthday parties, proms and vacations many times minimize the involvement of the disabled, limiting the exuberance that others routinely enjoy.

Fortunately, organizations like Playing for Others make it a point that kids with disabilities don’t miss out on feeling like they’re the superstar. One such event is happening this Sunday at McKnight Hall on the UNCC campus. For the ninth consecutive year, Playing for Others presents its Red Carpet program which makes the buddies (PFO’s affectionate term for kids with disabilities) the star of the show, both literally and figuratively.

At the center of the Red Carpet program is a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which features performances from both the teens and buddies. Before the show, however, the buddies are treated to a VIP experience, as they will arrive at the show in style. A limo ride to the venue is followed by a walk down the red carpet, where spectators, PFO teens and the buddies themselves are dressed like movie stars at the Oscars. As the cameras flash, the buddies and teens strike poses and bask in the adulation of the event, which is the culmination of homecoming weekend.

Playing for others was formed in 2006 to teach teenagers that you can take what you’re passionate about and use it to benefit the greater good. Today, 75 teens (eighth grade through high school) from 37 different schools participate in the Playing for Others program. Two teens team up with each buddy for friend dates, art experiences and relationship building. One of the program’s main focuses is diversity, with teens and buddies of all races, nationalities, sexualities and economic backgrounds included. Through this mentorship, teens in the program learn personal development, leadership training and public service.

To get a better idea of what to expect at the Red Carpet Event, I asked seven questions to Jen Band (formerly of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte), Executive Director of Playing for Others.

playing-for-others-red-carpet

What are some of the other activities in homecoming weekend leading up to the red carpet event? Friday night we will host HeARTbeat, an evening celebrating 12 local non-profits by bringing their story to life through the music, dance, spoken word, and digital art. Then on Saturday night we’ll gather to celebrate 10 years and watch a premiere of our first ever original musical, Ready. Set. Go.

What was the inspiration for the red carpet event? The Red Carpet event is a PFO staple. It’s a time for our “buddies”, children with disabilities, to be celebrated and treated like the rockstars they are! We believe that every human being deserves love and belonging.

How many teens and how many buddies participate in each homecoming? We have 75 teens in the program and 36 buddies that all come together for a weekend of hugs, high fives and dance parties :)

playing-for-others-red-carpet

How are the performances (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in this case) selected? You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was the very first PFO show. It seemed fitting to do it for our ten year anniversary.

What has the response been like from previous parents or caregivers? Parents are blown away by their experience with PFO. Many talk about how important these friendships are for their kids. The care, attention and love given to the buddies is simply beautiful to watch.

How often do you hear from former buddies and what do they say? Many of our buddies stay in the program year after year, they just can’t get enough of it! Those that move on come back for performances and stay in touch with their former PFO teen buddy. It’s a life-long relationship.

Personally, what is your favorite part of the red carpet event? That moment when I get to open the door to the limo and see all the excited faces inside. It’s honestly one of my favorite moments of the entire PFO season :)  

playing-for-others-red-carpet

Playing for Other’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is this Sunday, March 5 at McKnight Hall on the Campus of UNC Charlotte (9025 University Rd.) at 4:30 p.m. with red carpet festivities starting at 3 p.m. Show up in your freshest attire, and pay what you can at the door.