PAJAMA PROGRAM

Getting enough good sleep is important for emotional and physical health, learning, memory, and being in a good mood.  But there just aren’t enough accessible resources to help parents and caregivers establish comforting bedtime routines so that children can get the sleep they need. The Pajama Program helps use books as a vital part of healthy bedtime routines; they distribute pajamas and books to children facing uncertainty in every state and Puerto Rico.  A key component is their Reading Centers in New York City and Atlanta, where children visit and connect with our caring volunteers, spend an hour reading, and leave with a new pair of pajamas and new book to keep! The Pajama Program believes that good nights lead to good days.

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness:

If you're like me, you've been spending a lot more time recently in your pajamas. I've chosen to release this previously recorded episode during late March 2020- a time when our world has come to a screeching halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. As our daily lives of school and work have changed to the new norm of social distancing and online everything, life feels a bit scary and uncertain, but what remains certain now more than ever is the need for books. As schools have closed nationwide, almost 60 million children are attending school from their homes. With these shuttered schools, more children than ever are going without books, but programs like the one feature today, the Pajama Program are working to get books into the hands of children and to end book deserts.

Molly Ness:

Welcome to End Book Deserts, the podcast, featuring the innovative people in programs who work to provide book access to our nation's underserved children. I'm Dr. Molly Ness, lifelong reader book nerd teacher educator. I've created the End Book Deserts podcasts so that all kids have access to books and reading culture. End Book Deserts podcast is a part of the education podcast network. Just like the show you're listening to now. shows on the network are individually owned and opinions expressed may not reflect others. Find other interesting education podcasts @edupodcastnetwork.com.

 

Molly Ness:

Today we're chatting with the Pajama Program and their New York and Atlanta-based directors, Douna Hunter, and Chrissie Martinez. The Pajama Program believes that every child has the right to a good night. Every night in America, too many children go to sleep uncertain of what tomorrow will bring. And this uncertainty compromises their health, their school performance, and their emotional wellbeing. Pajama Program promotes and supports a comforting bedtime routine so that all children can thrive. They provide cozy pj's, inspiring storybooks, and critical resources for caregivers so that good nights can lead to good days.

 

Chrissie Martinez:

The pajama program is all about trying to give comforting bedtime routines to children around the country. Um, we are in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico and we try and fulfill this mission in a couple of ways. So, we deliver books with pajamas, to organizations who work with children who are affected by some sort of instability. And so that might be financial instability, housing, instability, um, something like that. So that is what we do nationally, locally. We have local programs, um, in New York and in Atlanta. And we bring groups of kids to our individual reading centers. And we have a, well, we both have a couple of different programs that we do, but mostly it's to have children read with adults for about an hour. And they have access to different kinds of books that they might not be able to get at school.

 

Douna Hunter:

One of our goals is to help plant those seeds of what a healthy bedtime routine looks like. And for many of us that include having a bedtime story. So, and reading right before bed, we all know it was a great way to just relax, to end your day, great way to relax, great way to fire up that imagination. And that's one thing that a lot of our children that experienced trauma and instability may not be aware of that. Oh yes, well reading a book can take you many places in a way out of your current circumstances and situations. So we have, we bring children in from these communities, these economically disadvantaged communities to read and share stories with adult volunteers that go through background checks. But our goal is for one-on-one interaction. And we know that a lot of times the children, especially because they come in from schools, um, childcare centers, shelters, they don't always get those one-on-one interactions, even with parents and guardians, just because of American lifestyle. Parents are busy working and have a lot of other commitments outside of the home.

Molly Ness:

Let's expand on that reading party a little bit more. If I am a 10-year-old child who is going through some instability at home, either because of my family situation changing or socioeconomic challenges, um, what would this reading party entail for me? How do you guys make it a place in space that's welcoming and that kids want to be well?

 

Chrissie Martinez:

So we have our reading centers, actually mine is currently going through renovations. We are trying to make it even cozier and even more welcoming space. Um, children come in in their class. So it's like a school trip for them. Um, and we start just with the little circle time introductions. My name is Chrissie. My favorite color is pink just to sort of make everyone a little more comfortable. Um, and then we split off into groups that are close to, we like to get as close to one-on-one as possible, just because we really want them to be able to have that bond of, you know, the one one-on-one, um, and they can choose stories, you know, anything from our reading center. Sometimes they get through five stories. Sometimes they get through one because they are just having such a great time talking with their, with their adult volunteer with their buddy, that they really want to spend all the time talking to them. Um, and then they get to choose a book to take with them. So, any book that we have in the reading center, uh, one of my favorite things that happens is when I'm going around saying, all right, this is the book that you're going to take home. And they often ask, well, when do I have to bring this back? And one of my favorite things is to be able to say to them, no, this is our gift to you. You get to take this and you get to keep it forever. Um,

 

Douna Hunter:

They love that too! It's mine forever!

 

Chrissie Martinez:

And we do often get reports from teachers that say like, kids don't really have any books at home, um, not all the time, but sometimes they don't have any books at home. And so this is something it's their own personal something, something they have to share with anyone else. Um, so it's great. And then they also get to take a pair of pajamas home. Um, and we have prepared the pajamas before. So, we know like their names, their sizes, what they need.

Molly Ness:

And how long has your organization been going and how do you do this work in terms of the funding and where the books come from? What are some of the nuts and bolts?

Douna Hunter:

Well, Pajama Program was founded in 2001. So, we were very close to 20 years. Um, it started off with our large program where we called Good Nights for Good Days. So that was, um, basically purely distribution of new pajamas and new books to those communities that really need us. We got the attention of kind of our great partner and sponsor Carter's the children's clothing. And we were offered, um, a wonderful, uh, donation and partnership through Carter's. So that's how we were able to open up our reading centers to keep our reading centers going. And of course, when people may have heard that Genevieve Piturro was on the holy grail of promotions and marketing, which was the free show. So after that a lot more sponsors and a lot more individuals became involved through that- that showing.

Molly Ness:

And this is important, as we know, corporate sponsors are in those big-name organizations. I know that certainly people who are listening to this podcast will want to know how they can get involved in how probably can help. And so, um, I will direct listeners to by website endbookdeserts.com to find out more how they can get involved as it sounds like you are all over the country, not just in New York and Atlanta.

 

Douna Hunter:

Absolutely.

 

Chrissie Martinez:

We actually do. I think it's starting very soon. We do a drive-in Carter's stores until people can go in and they can donate in two ways. You know, when they're at the registers buying for themselves, they can either donate a pair of pajamas along with the pair of pajamas that they have purchased to us, or they can also choose to do a cash donation. Um, just like at the registers. Yes. I'd like to donate a dollar or $5 to Pajama Program. So that's one of the big things that helps us, especially at the end of the year, during the holiday season.

 

Molly Ness:

Yeah and, and a shout out obviously to Carter's, um, for enabling that to happen. And in an earlier podcast, I spoke with Ticket to Dream, which is an organization that provides resources, including books to children in the foster care system. And Mattress Firm has partnered with them so that people can donate books and resources in any Mattress Firm store across the country. Um, so we certainly want to be mindful and appreciative of the places and the organizations that are less easy for customers to walk into a store and have a place to immediately- immediately give. So 20 years in, um, what is your impact? How are you measuring that your program is really reaching the population that you're aiming to, and that is a program that has, um, value?

Douna Hunter:

Well, um, I know that we have this very large number over 6 million children, 6 million books and pajamas received. Um, since I opened it, that's a huge number. That's a lot of books and a lot of pajamas. So we do measure that the number of books and pajamas distributed, but also we look, we send out surveys and to our community partners. So those schools and shelters, um, and childcare centers that visit our reading centers. And look at that the, they, we look at the books and pajamas that were received, the feelings or the, what was reported once they, the children get back to their center. So, it is wonderful numbers. I know specifically at Atlanta, since we're the new kids on the block, we've been open our doors June 2017. So right over two years that we've been here, but, um, we've, uh, served or more than 5,600 children have visited our reading centers. We've distributed over 6,000 books and pajamas, um, more than 4,300 hours of volunteer work. And we know because we are promoting those tools and that, uh, that feeling of what it feels like to have a good, healthy, bedtime routine. We know that we've made an impact. That's how we judge our impact through those surveys and through the books and pajamas that have been distributed.

 

Molly Ness:

And where do you see Pajama Program going in the future? What's down the road for you both at your own local center, as well as the program in a more holistically as a, as a larger program.

 

Chrissie Martinez:

So, we actually, from these surveys that we've set out to our community partners, um, and just from talking a lot of our stakeholders, we, if we want to be about healthy bedtime routines and bedtime as being the core focus of our programming, we're actually not there with them at bedtime. You know, there's this big gap between when they leave our doors and when they go home and are at bedtime. Um, so what we are moving into now is caregiver programming. And so, we have developed a council that is the council of experts, medical experts, um, that are involved in sleep. And so, we really want to reach the people who are there with them at that time. So that is the parents, grandparents, other family members. It is the people who work at the foster homes. It's the people who work at the shelters. So the people who are, you know, boots on the ground there with them at bedtime. And so we want to be able to help those people to be able to help the children with the bedtime routines.

 

Molly Ness:

So as we wrap up, let me, um, focus on the question that I use in everything with all of my guests, knowing that, um, books are such an important part of the routine that you guys are trying to create, um, for the children that you serve. And knowing that reading culture and conversations about ourselves as readers are an important way to build and foster the love of reading. I'm hoping that you can share with us a book that has a particularly, um, profound impact on you, a book either from your past or present, but one that really shaped you as a reader and as a human, what would that book be for you guys?

 

Chrissie Martinez:

Um, mine's kind of a silly one. It's Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. Um, a really silly one, but I, as I was an educator for about 10 years before I started doing this and I worked on, um, one-to-one special education. And I found that that was a book that automatically because of how silly it is was you were able to easily make a connection with a child, make a one-on-one connection with a child. So, when you're trying to create a bond, a book that's silly and fun and easy is a book that helps you, you know, make a bond with a child. And so Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is always one that is the one that I use to sort of, to try and do that, um, so much so that I have now bought all the pigeon books for my niece and my nephew. And it's always my favorite one to keep in the reading center. I love that book.

 

Molly Ness:

Yeah, you can't really, we can't overstate the importance of Mo Willems readers in early ages. He is from his elephant and Piggie to his pigeon books to Nuffle Bunny, Mo Willems is really a literacy sensation. Douna, what about you?

Douna Hunter:

Really as well? Mine is really kind of heavy. This is early years of beginning- when I was in high school, I read The Color Purple. So, Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple. It helped me really to find my voice. It was really heavy, heavy-duty things. And I'm not sure even if I was aware of what I was reading at that time, but I remember I was like, oh, sheets. I remember thinking that, oh, Celia has found her voice. She's finding her voice. Even through her letters, you know, dear God, or when she started writing to her sister, it is just so much in that voice that she had a voice. And maybe as a teenager, you know, all teenagers are awkward, but I read this as a teenager. I was like, oh yes, I can write my letters. And you know, at least God will listen. So, it helped me to kind of found by my voice, but I like historical fiction anyway. So, I have a tendency to gear, to doors towards those types of books.

Molly Ness:

Thank you so much to our friends at the Pajama Program. For more information on their work visit endbookdeserts.com. Now onto today's related reading, which is a portion of the podcast where I book talk, something from my personal or professional shelves. Now, knowing that these past few weeks have been pretty heavy, I searched for a book to make me laugh, and I stumbled across Wild Thing: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta. Many of us might think that the children's book world is sacramentally sweet, a myth busted by the librarian blogger authors. Wild Thing is a treasure trove of amusing anecdotes and behind the scenes look into the children's book publishing world with topics like errors and secret messages in children's book, the worst children's books written by a celebrity author and even the taboo topics of sex and death in children's literature. It's sure to amuse and maybe make you reconsider your misconceptions about children's books.

 

That wraps it up for this episode of End Book Deserts. If you know of a person or program doing innovative work to get books into the hands of young readers, email me at molly@endbookdeserts.com. For more about my work and for more about the program featured on this episode, check out our webpage www.endbookdeserts.com. Follow me on social media at End Book Deserts and share out your stories and reactions with #EndBookDeserts. Thanks to Dwayne Wheatcroft for graphics and copy and to Benjamin Johnson for sound editing. Until the next episode, happy reading!