Photo by Stefan Radtke
Irvington nonprofit pioneer Genevieve Piturro helps dreamers and doers discover their passion, just as she discovered hers in a pair of pajamas.
Like millions of young and ambitious career women, Genevieve Piturro was climbing the corporate ladder in Manhattan, single and alone, except for that little voice in her heart asking, Is this enough?
It was the late ’90s, and the Yonkers native was 37 years old and working in syndicated-television marketing when she reached out to a homeless shelter in Manhattan to see if she could read to the kids at bedtime. “I don’t know where the idea came from,” says Piturro, now 59 and a resident of Irvington. “Maybe it was because in the evenings after work was the only free time I had.”
So, at the end of the day, in a business suit and heels, Piturro began reading bedtime stories to children who were settling in for the night in clothes they’d worn all day — clothes that didn’t always fit right and were usually dirty. With wildly different, and much more comforting, memories of her own childhood bedtime swirling around in her head, Piturro asked if she could bring pajamas for the kids on her next visit.
When she arrived and started passing out new pajamas, she noticed a little girl, hanging back and seemingly afraid, reluctant to take a pair. “She was probably about 6 years old, because she only came up to my hip,” recalls Piturro. “When I asked her, ‘Don’t you want your pajamas?’ she whispered in my ear, ‘What are pajamas?’ My heart dropped into my stomach.”
Without hesitation and with a deep sense of purpose, Piturro began delivering pajamas to shelters and group homes all over Manhattan and Yonkers, and then across Westchester, while continuing to read bedtime stories after work. “I was so consumed with bringing comfort to these kids, I started losing interest in my job,” she admits. “That was petrifying, because I had a mortgage and had always viewed myself as a hard worker and corporate climber. People at work started noticing,” she says before adding: “I went into debt buying pajamas.”
It was around this time, with career and life at a crossroads, that “I was getting to know a great guy, who encouraged me to go for it.” She took his advice (and later married him), and just a couple of years after that profound moment when she was shaken to her core with a child’s whisper, Piturro launched the nonprofit Pajama Program, which today boasts more than 60 chapters around the country, staffed by volunteers distributing pajamas and books to local kids in need (and in many cases still reading bedtime stories to them). Upwards of seven million new pairs of pajamas have been handed out around the U.S. to date, with the dedicated reading centers she established, first in Yonkers, then in Manhattan and beyond, thriving.
Two decades later, Piturro has stepped down from her day-to-day duties at the organization to focus on life coaching centered around the theme of her newly published book, Purpose, Passion, and Pajamas. “Pajamas became my purpose, and I want to help others find their version of pajamas.”
She believes that at the dawn of a new year, and after the strain of the prior one, it’s the perfect time to “invest in yourself and that dream you’ve had on the backburner,” she advises. “Even if it’s only an hour a week to start, even if it’s just researching that passion project for an hour a week, don’t keep pushing it back.”
Although she “jumped before learning to swim” upon discovering her “pajamas,” Piturro recognizes such dramatic change is not possible for most, so she suggests the “slide method,” as she calls it. “Sliding your passion project into your life, even for an hour at a time, will bring you hope and remind you that your dream can be a possibility sooner than you think.” Sliding into purpose, she notes, can usher in meaning and fulfillment not only to an individual but to those around them.
When she’s not sliding, jumping, coaching, or donning a new pair of “pajamas” herself, Piturro enjoys live entertainment and activities, particularly in the Rivertowns, with that same “great guy” who supported her passion early on. Although they never had kids themselves, Piturro adores her now-grown nieces and nephews but adds that she will forever consider as one of her own every kid she ever eased into sleep with a story, pajamas, and above all, a feeling of comfort and care.