- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It was a heartfelt moment, according to Sue Smith of Lexington Park, founder and program coordinator of Pajama Connection.
Smith had created Pajama Connection to provide children in crisis in the tri-county area with a few things to call their own as the children are moved into foster care or deal with their family’s economic struggles.
Smith described coming into contact with a 7-year-old boy from a low-income family. She learned that the boy needed a total of five outfits to get into a day-care program. He already had three, so all he needed was two more. Smith and the Pajama Connection program went out and bought the little guy the additional clothing.
But that was not the heartfelt moment.
What really touched Smith’s heart, she said, is when the boy’s birthday arrived two months later. Instead of wanting the latest toys that other children his age had, he asked for new clothing from the church that gave him clothes from Pajama Connection to get into day care.
“It’s really sad to see what we take for granted daily a child in need is thankful and gracious for,” Smith said. “It really put the biggest smile on my face.”
After working as nurse at the health department in Charles County for many years, Smith decided she needed a mission after her retirement in 2008.
“I said to the Lord, what do you need me to do?” Smith said. “I have free time. And he said ‘It’s right in front of you.’”
Smith wanted to comfort children who were taken out of their homes to go into foster care. She pitched the idea to her church, Hollywood United Methodist Church, which soon took on the idea.
The Rev. Sheldon Reese of Hollywood, pastor of Hollywood United Methodist Church, says he is like the cheerleader of the program.
“I promote Pajama Connection through the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church,” Reese said. “I help heighten the people’s awareness, and it’s been very fulfilling over the years. It’s brought community awareness to other organizations around us.”
Children who were taken out of their homes are sometimes moved around from place to place with their belongings in garbage bags.
“Every child needs something to call their own” Smith says. “This is when I came up with the idea of beach totes. We originally started filling the totes with pajamas, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, books and stuffed animals.”
When a teacher in the community found out what Pajama Connection was doing, she asked if they could provide some students with activity books and school supplies as well. Pajama Connection followed through with the addition of those items.
All the items in the totes are brand new. “My vision was to give them something new to improve their lives and self-image,” Smith said.
Pajama Connection has come a long way since the start of the program. Smith won a contest put on by “This Old House” magazine and was rewarded with $2,500 for the charity. She says that money helped to really get the program on its feet.
Pajama Connection now delivers totes to children at five homeless shelters, two foster care agencies, the St. Mary’s County school system and the Alternative Youth Program.
There is only one Pajama Connection in the nation. But the program has received a lot of notice from other groups seeing the same need that Smith saw.
“Other states have now inquired on how to start a Pajama Connection,” Smith said. “We’ve even had several donations from out of state.”
“The program meets a vital need that sometimes goes unnoticed,” Reese said. “With Sue’s commitment, we are able to help many children in need.”
“The Lord provides, and I’ve been blessed,” Smith said.