I visited a Center in Harlem for children with no fathers and whose mothers are in prison. I brought with me 12 pairs of pajamas. As the children came into the room, each child chose the
pair he or she wanted. After a few minutes, one little girl came over to me:
"What are these?" she quietly asked
"They're pajamas," I answered her.
Where do I wear them?" I answered, "To bed at night."
She looked at me, puzzled.
"What do you usually wear to bed?" I asked her.
"My pants," she said quietly.
My heart sank. It was at that moment I knew I had found my true purpose in life and it drives me day and night.
So, I started Pajama Program in 2001 and our programs and services have grown incredibly in the past seven years! Many of the children we help have been abused or abandoned, and have never enjoyed the simple comfort of having a mother tuck them in at bedtime and read to them. Since we started we have provided more than 190,000 pajamas and 90,000 books to children in need nationwide. Our segment on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired twice in 2007, helped us grow to 74 chapters in 44 States nationwide!
Contrary to many entrepreneurs' stories, I loved my career - all of the jobs I had! But as time went on, I realized that I was working to make other people richer...and more famous. I wasn't really "helping" anyone who needed help. I didn't have children - I was 37 and single, and my life was simple and I had everything I needed - family, friends, travel opportunities for business and pleasure, nice material things. I thought that was all I needed. I met the love of my life, my husband Demo, at age 38 and together we planned a life - he didn't have children either and in a first marriage for both of us, we thought we were free and clear of any struggles or challenges. I shared my growing discontent about my career with my husband and he quickly encouraged me to think about finding a way to feel more fulfilled. He suggested I read to children in shelters at night. I did and that's when I met the little girl in my story above. Everywhere I went I told people what she said to me and their reactions were the same..."how can we help?"
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 new book for bedtime.
Our first break was in late 2001 when Parenting magazine wrote a small article about what we were doing. The entire country started sending boxes and boxes of new pajamas and books to my apartment and from that time on, the boxes and funding jeeps coming and coming!
Demo was and is my biggest cheerleader. I know he didn't bargain for all the changes that overtook us - the voluntary loss of my salary, the regular inundation of boxes into our small one-bedroom apartment, the use of our down payment for a bigger home on food and bills instead and the daily pull on my time - our time - from children and staff who needed our help. If it weren't for Demo's insistence on communicating what we needed to do for ourselves and our life together while all the pajamas were arriving, we never would have been able to grow stronger as a couple and take Pajama Program to where we are today.
The need is great. There are more than 500,000 children in the foster care system in the U.S. and more than 1 million children who are not living with their natural parents. These children have been through great upheaval and trauma, without exception. So as you see, we have just begun.