In mid-January the lower school gym was packed with students, faculty and staff – all in pajamas – ready and excited to donate to a good cause. The reason can be traced back to one young Harker student.
Four years ago, Harker third grader Rishi Narain sat down to watch the “Oprah” show. The show’s guest that day was Genevieve Piturro, founder of the Pajama Program, a nonprofit dedicated to delivering warm sleepwear and nurturing books to children in need. Seeing thousands of pajamas and books donated to children who never had them inspired Narain to bring the program to Harker, where he organized the lower school’s inaugural pajama drive.
Four years later, the event is bigger than ever.
The assembly itself was a raucous affair. In addition to all the lower school students, there were also “big people in the audience,” as Joe Connolly, lower school dean, put it in his introduction to the event. The “big people” were sophomores, who had come as part of the Eagle Buddies program.
Eagle Buddies, still in its first year, was an initiative suggested by Butch Keller, upper school head, in an effort to bridge the campus divide. Third and tenth graders are matched together, and according to Carol Zink, upper school history teacher; the third graders get fun, older role models, “while the sophomores get a chance to lighten up and be kids for a little bit.”
The buddies stay together for three years, until the sophomores graduate and the third graders matriculate into middle school. “It’s been going more smoothly than I could ever imagine,” said Keller. “I couldn’t be more pleased with what we’re accomplishing.”
After Connolly’s introduction, Pallie Zambrano, co-president of the Pajama Program’s Northern and Central California chapter, expressed thanks to the Harker students, reminding them that each donated pair of pajamas would change the life of a child in need.
Next, Keller replaced his suit jacket with a bathrobe and reclined on a rocking chair to read “We Are Going on a Bear Hunt” to the children. All the students got involved during the audience participation part of the reading, with special zeal coming from the sophomores, who may or may not have been coached beforehand.
Finally, the students spent some time reading to themselves and with their buddies. Big Buddy Michaela Kastelman said she enjoyed spending time with her buddy because it brought her back to the experience of being in third grade. Kindergartner Andrew Fox wasn’t too sure of what was going on, but he was very excited to be in his pajamas. “They’re not as tight as my uniform!” he exclaimed.
All in all, the event was a huge success, with Harker students donating 727 pairs of pajamas and 204 books, a school record for the program.