Ten years ago, Darcy Neighbors was taking Leadership Las Vegas classes at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. One of the challenges: Come up with a community project that would make a difference in people's lives.
Neighbors visited Child Haven, the Clark County agency that takes in children who are removed from unsafe conditions. Many arrive with only the clothes on their backs. An idea sparked. She set out to give them new pajamas.
DJ for PJs was born.
"When I first thought up the idea, I had no idea how many pajamas would be donated," she said. "If we could gather 500 or 1,000, we'd make an impact. To know the first year, we threw it together, and got 3,000, we were amazed."
The next DJs for PJs event is slated from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday. Drop off new pajamas at any participating Kohl's parking lot. There are four locations: 8671 W. Charleston Blvd.; 6700 N. Durango Drive; 30 N. Valle Verde Drive in Henderson; and 4250 Blue Diamond Road.
"The (leadership) class thought I was crazy," Neighbors said. "When I pitched the idea to them, and they said, 'Nobody's going to bring pajamas to a shopping center,' I said, 'The worst we can do is not get anything.' "
Neighbors had soon engaged people who could get the word out and used her office staff to come up with a logo and develop a brand at no cost to the organization. She credited already having radio station contacts and her marketing skills as factors that brought success for the effort.
Neighbors made a point of visiting Child Haven to witness the moment that the pajamas were distributed.
"The first year, they dumped the pajamas in the middle of the cottage floor, and the kids got to pick whatever pair they wanted," Neighbors recalled.
It was gut-wrenching, she said, but also rewarding.
At the end of the leadership classes, Punam Mather, who was at the time senior vice president of corporate diversity and community affairs for MGM Mirage, spoke to the leadership class. When the time came to make a decision about which projects to continue, she helped them narrow it to three or four.
Mather knows well the budget constraints under which Child Haven operates.
"In 1998, after becoming a licensed foster parent, I met two boys (at the time 9 years old and 2 weeks old) at Child Haven, who were subsequently placed in my home," she said via email. "When I went to pick them up to bring them home, they had the clothes on their backs and a 'suitcase' that consisted of a paper lunch bag. That's it. Every possession they had fit into the palm of one hand. It was as though these two boys were invisible in the world. Inherent in giving a pair of pajamas to a child -- which may appear little in the grand scheme -- is a gesture that lets children know that they matter, and that is huge."
Other popular leadership projects included assisting Christmas in April and one where everyone pitched in to install a fountain in the exercise yard of a youth prison. Neighbors' project was one to which the class made a commitment for 10 years.
Year after year as the effort continued, the number of pajamas that were donated steadily increased. Why did that one resonate with regular people?
"Everybody knows what it feels like to hang out in a pair of pajamas, and everybody can participate," Neighbors said. "It doesn't take $100,000 or $100; you can bring one pair. I have these little kids come out and dump their piggy banks on the table, and they know that no matter (how much) they do, they make an impact."
But even good intentions and requesting such a small commitment couldn't continue to grow when the economy tanked in 2008. It hit the organization hard.
"We raised 13,900 pairs in 2007, and the next year we were lucky to get 6,000," Neighbors said. "It was a huge impact."
Compounding the challenge was the fact that DJs for PJs had added charities every year such as the Shade Tree, St. Jude's Ranch, Southern Nevada Children First, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth and Boys Town Nevada. It now commits to providing pajamas to 15 organizations.
Neighbors said she would like to see DJs for PJs mature into a nonprofit organization so it could grow at a regional and national level.
For more information about DJs for PJs, visit djsforpjs.org.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 387-2949.