I am often asked how I started Pajama Program but honestly, I feel like Pajama Program happened to me, not the other way around. I never set out to start a non-profit, nor did I have a desire to turn my life upside down. All I asked for was a little "purpose" to my life. And you know what they say, be careful what you ask for...
I visited a safe house for abused and neglected children. My intention was to read with the children in the evening, once a week after my work day. I loved my marketing job and planned to continue advancing my career for many years to come. One night as I said goodbye to the children I watched them go into a nearby room to sleep. They slowly climbed onto couches and futons. Some were crying and the staff tried to comfort them and ease them onto a soft surface. There was no changing of their clothes, no bedtime stories, no hugs from moms or dads. I was paralyzed. This was not the way bedtime was supposed to be for a child. I waited for the staff to finish with the children and asked them if they needed pajamas... could I bring some? I couldn't believe what the staff told me about the children who were brought to them every day and every night. The stories of abuse and neglect were horrifying and heartbreaking. I couldn't change what had happened to these children but at least I could give them a pair of warm, clean pajamas to sleep in. The next week I brought 12 pairs of pajamas with me -- one for each child I was told would be there. As the children came into the room to sit and read with me, I gave each one a pair of pajamas. One little girl wouldn't take pajamas from me. She stood perfectly still, looked up at me, and asked in a whisper, "What are these?"
"They're pajamas," I said.
"Where do I wear them?"
I answered her, "To bed at night."
She looked at me, puzzled.
"What do you usually wear to bed?" I asked her.
"My pants," she said quietly as she tugged on her soiled jeans.
My heart sank. On the subway to work a few weeks later I felt what I can only describe as a "raindrop" fall onto my head and the words PAJAMA PROGRAM spoke to me from it loud and clear. It was at that moment I knew I had found my true purpose in life. I thought of nothing else as I continued in my present job, knowing in my heart I was about to jump off that corporate ladder.
I told everyone to give me new pajamas... for my birthday, anniversary... Christmas... and I gave them to the children. How incredible when my friends came with me! I knew what was happening; my excitement for my career was waning and I was feeling a new swell in my heart... for these children who needed pajamas and a book for bedtime.