In 10 years I can say a lot has surprised me. But what strikes me as unforgivable every single day is that thousands of children never enjoy the simple comfort of having a mother or father tuck them in at bedtime with warm, clean pajamas and a bedtime story.
When I started Pajama Program a decade ago I never thought I'd be writing about celebrating our 10th birthday this year and having provided more than 1 million new pajamas and new books to children in need nationwide. Ten years ago it was just me and a plastic bag with 12 PJs in Harlem. I didn't know about children living in emergency safe-houses, group homes, shelters, and temporary housing facilities. I didn't know they are shuffled from one place to another while strangers make decisions about their tomorrows. Many of them, I learned, had been abandoned, abused or neglected.
Now we operate 60+ chapters in 40 states plus three Pajama Program Reading Centers. The centers are where we get to know the children like Sammy, personally.
I stood in the doorway at one of our Pajama Program Reading Centers watching six-year-old Sammy running toward me to begin his reading session. He was living in a group home (formerly called an orphanage) and attended our Friday reading sessions. He was carrying what looked like a big black garbage bag. When he noticed me he ran to me as fast as he could.
"Miss Gennie, Miss Gennie I have a foster family! I have a foster family!" He exclaimed. "I'm leaving here to live with my foster family! My foster mom is picking me up at 5 o'clock today and I need to take a lot of pajamas and books with me!"
He said the word "foster" at least 100 times.
"Wow! That's the BEST news I've ever heard!" I told him.
"I'll miss you!" he said, still beaming, as he hopped up and down with anticipation. Then he looked up at me and asked, "Can you fill my bag with pajamas?"
Tears welled up in my eyes. I packed some pajamas and books for him to take to his new home. My heart was full and I couldn't help but smile to myself, as I now had an image of Sammy tucked into bed in his comfy pajamas, warm and cozy, in a real home, with a new family who will love and care for him as much as he deserves.
I may never see him again, and I pray I will never have to... I pray that he will never, ever return to a group home setting because he was abandoned or abused, unloved or hurt in any way again.
I hugged him and said, "Sleep Tight." And I smiled again as I watched him drag a plastic bag bursting with pajamas across the lawn.
Find out more about the Pajama Program here.