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Warm & Fuzzy: A Chat with Pajama Program Founder Genevieve Piturro

Genevieve Piturro is the Founder and Executive Director of Pajama Program. We were inspired to share her story because of her mission to help others in the smallest ways — and grow to a national non-profit, supported by big brands and an incredible board.

As #GivingTuesday leads into the holiday season, these sentiments are particularly poignant. Founded in 2001, the organization now has 60 Chapters in 33 states and has been lauded by Oprah. Genevieve built her organization from a sweet dream to a wonderful reality for children in need of comfort and care.

What motivated you to start Pajama Program?

After being a workaholic business woman, continuing my climb up the corporate ladder and having very little to hold onto outside of that, I decided that I wanted to help others, particularly children. I started reading bedtime stories in homeless shelters throughout New York City on weekends. I then started donating clothes. However, what spurred me to do more was the quiet question of a little girl.

What happened in that moment that changed your direction?

I gave her a new pair of pajamas out of the clothes pile, and her response to me was, ‘”What are pajamas?'” After I got over the initial shock of her not knowing that kind of comfort (and the fact that many kids simply sleep in their street clothes), I knew that I had to steer my direction elsewhere. I  I had a purpose to fulfill that a cushioned corporate job couldn’t provide for me anymore. I decided to make sure that all kids had the makings of a proper and comforting bedtime — new pajamas and books to read!

How did you transition from your business career to founding Pajama Program?

I only had professional experience in business, so my first step was to volunteer with organizations like the Starlight Foundation, to get a better idea of how I could implement change. After becoming more involved with the children associated with Starlight, I found a niche in their lack of bedtime routines. Nowhere was a practice or organization that focused specifically on the security and special function that this custom has for children. 

Even though I had never worked in the nonprofit sector before, I knew in my heart of hearts that this was where I was supposed to be!

So what advice do you have for other women starting non-profits

  • A willingness to get help from others. As a driven businesswoman who wanted to provide for myself by myself, I realized very quickly that I would never realize my dream without the help of sponsors, partnerships, and my former business colleagues. Always maintain connections. You never know where they’ll come in handy next!
  • Communicate to donors, and even volunteers that they’re making a difference. Nothing makes their efforts more worthwhile than showing them that they are indeed making bedtime a more personal experience for these children. It makes the organization stronger, and makes people wanting to continue helping!
  • Never stop asking for support and help! Especially when you’re starting out, make it a priority to reach out to all different people from all backgrounds and sectors. Even if you have a definite objective that you want to follow, chances are you will find support systems in the most unexpected places!

P.S. Genevieve’s greatest inspiration to keep Pajama Program going is her mother, who instilled the importance of bedtime in her as a child and now informs her work every day.)