SEPTEMBER 28, 2022 BY DAWN EVANS GREENBERG, THE INSIDE PRESS
Dawn Evans Greenberg, founder and director of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival–being held this year on Saturday, October 15th–interviewed Jamie Dyce, whose family recently moved from Brooklyn to Chappaqua, about her much celebrated not for profit PAJAMA PROGRAM, which will have a booth at this year’s 9th annual festival!
Dawn: Tell us about Pajama Program and how the mission has evolved over the years.
Jamie: Pajama Program was established in 2001 by our Founder, Genevieve Piturro. While reading to children in shelters in New York City, Genevieve encountered many children who did not have pajamas. Determined to make change, she collected pajamas from her family and friends and delivered them to the children herself. Her initiative grew into a nationwide effort to provide pajamas to children who didn’t have them.
When we began, we had one main program which was to deliver new pajamas to as many children as possible. Eventually, books were incorporated into that program as well. Over time, our work has evolved because we’ve learned so much from our community partners (other nonprofits) about what the children in their care need when it comes to supporting them at bedtime. When I took on the role of Executive Director, our mission shifted. My vision was to create deeper sustainable impact for children by focusing on programming for the adults in their lives who are with them at bedtime. I thought about the adult caregivers, because children don’t put themselves to bed at night–an adult does that. What is this experience like for the adults? How can we help, and do so thoughtfully?
As it turns out, there is a lot we can do together. We still deliver new pajamas and books–which we know are great tools for a comforting bedtime routine. And I’m proud to say that in the last several years, our programs have expanded to include sleep health education for children, their parents, caregivers, and educators in an effort to ensure that children are fully supported at bedtime so that they can get the sleep they need to thrive the next day.
In the past year, despite challenges presented by the pandemic, we’ve provided 123,866 pajamas and 81,950 books to children. Through our sleep health education programs, we’ve reached more than 5,000 preschool children. In addition to reaching children, we support caregivers and parents, providing them with much-needed resources. In 2022, our training program was presented to nearly 900 parents and caregivers. We also operate two Centers; one in NYC and one in Atlanta, and a training facility, in Michigan. During the pandemic, we couldn’t offer in-person programming at our brick and mortar locations so we moved to a virtual format. Today, we are welcoming children and volunteers back to our Centers and we’ll continue to deliver programs virtually as well, reaching more children and adults around the country who otherwise wouldn’t have access to our in-person locations.
We view sleep as a human right and as a social justice issue. Sleep is as important as good nutrition and physical exercise. However, access to and awareness of the importance of sleep is not equitably distributed and can be impacted by a child’s circumstances. As we move forward, our goal is to reach more children facing adversity, particularly those children in Head Start programs, and advocate for them so that someday, every child has a Good Night for a Good Day.
Dawn: How did you get involved?
Jamie: I was practicing law and actively volunteering at Pajama Program, bringing groups of my colleagues from the law firm to the NYC Center to share stories with children. I had also joined the board and was serving as Board chair. At the same time, I had been devoting more and more of my legal practice to pro bono representation of young girls and women who had survived commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). The average age a girl is first trafficked is 12 years old–a child. The population of children we aim to support at Pajama Program experience much of the same systemic inequities and challenges as the girls I worked with in my CSE practice; low family income, housing insecurity, family instability–all circumstances beyond their control.
My work for these two seemingly different nonprofit organizations was more aligned than I initially realized. I recognized the systemic inequalities impacting the lives of survivors of CSE and the young children who came to Pajama Program. I thought about what it meant to have a good night as a child, and why it matters. I considered the pajamas, the books, what we were learning from our community partners at Pajama Program, and how children who feel connected to someone just before they drift off to sleep, are likelier to sleep better and therefore be better equipped for what lies ahead the next day. I kept coming back to the same thought: kids just want to be kids, no matter their circumstances. And how it’s much harder for some, given the inequities of our world, and that the world I want to live in is one where no child is labeled by their circumstances; they’re simply free and equal. I came to the conclusion that children do not just deserve a good night for a good day, but they have an inherent RIGHT to a good night for a good day.
That’s when our Good Night Bill of Rights was born, and when our mission began to shift. It’s also around that time that our Founder began to pursue her new path as a motivational speaker and author, and she passed the baton to me. I have been leading the organization as Executive Director since 2017.
Dawn: What are some examples of how you operate in communities across the country?
Jamie: We use two approaches to achieve our mission with a focus on reaching children who are facing uncertainty in their lives. First, we deliver pajamas and books to children from birth through 12 by working with over 4,000 community-based organizations across the country. These include school-based programs, foster care agencies, and shelters. We also provide virtual and in-person sleep health education, reaching young children, parents, and educators with information and strategies to help make bedtime better. We offer workshops for parents, local programs for young children, and training for early care and education providers.
Dawn: We’re excited you’ll participate in the CCBF. What can families learn and do when they stop by your booth?
Jamie: We look forward to participating in the CCBF! Children and families can stop by and learn about the READY® Bedtime routine and participate in one of our Storytime sessions. Our version of storytime includes not only a reading, but also a fun method to learn about bedtime routines in a way that engages young children. Joining us during our mid-day session will be one of our Good Night Advisory Council members, Dr. Rebecca Robbins. You may have seen Dr. Robbins on national television, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, and Live with Kelly and Ryan, talking about sleep health. She will be answering questions about children’s bedtime routines, and we encourage parents of children of all ages to join us for her talk!
We’ll have a limited supply of a special book authored by renowned author Tish Rabe for Pajama Program, all about bedtime routines. “Sweet Dreams Ahead, Time for Bed” will be available as a giveaway for the first 50 children to join our Storytime session. And children can say hello and take a photo with our life size teddy bear, Dreamer.
Dawn: Tell us about your family and your move to New Castle. What bedtime rituals do you do with your daughter? What are her favorite books?
Jamie: My husband Paul and I made the decision to leave Brooklyn during the pandemic. We are probably like a lot of other families who made a similar decision, and we were ready at the time, pandemic or not. We met later in our lives–though we likely crossed paths many times before we actually met. We shared a couple of mutual friends, had been to the same Pearl Jam concerts starting in 1996, and we even shared the same office building elevator bank at one point in our careers, but wouldn’t meet until much later, in 2017.
We started a family after we got married and our daughter Adriana brings us so much joy. The decision to move to New Castle was simple! When I describe our new life to friends, I tell them that it feels like we are someplace special, like a town you’d visit as an escape. It’s not your ordinary suburb, and I feel closer to my roots than I’ve felt in decades. I grew up in a closeknit community in the suburbs of Buffalo, and I didn’t realize how much I’d yearned for that for our family until we moved. I’ve fallen in love with the sense of community here. Our neighbors have been incredibly welcoming, and we try to explore the area as much as possible. Adriana is nearly 2 years old and seeing her grow up against the backdrop of Millwood and Chappaqua is more than I could ever ask for. She’s a huge fan of World Cup, the town playground near the train station, and of course, Gedney, near us in Millwood.
One big difference for us here when compared to Williamsburg is nighttime. It’s definitely much quieter, which took some getting used to. I love hearing the sounds of nature and being able to see the stars at night, which really add to the feel of a comforting bedtime routine when it’s time for Adriana to go to sleep. We have our bedtime ritual every night. It starts with a bath, brushing teeth, saying good night to her favorite stuffed animal friends and Daddy, and then we get to my favorite part–cuddling up together to read stories before a final kiss and lullaby good night. I am definitely not a singer, but I appreciate that Adriana is probably the only person in the world who finds comfort in my singing voice!
As for our favorite bedtime stories, it’s hard to narrow it down. Currently, she adores “Tuck Me In” by Dean Hacohen. As luck would have it, Dean will be at the Festival, so Adriana and I will be fangirling at his booth. She also loves her City Block book and anything featuring penguins, especially stories by Sandra Boynton.
For more information about Pajama Program, please visit us at www.pajamaprogram.org and be sure to stop by our booth at the Festival!