Published: Sep 18, 2012 06:00 PM
Modified: Sep 18, 2012 12:47 PM
Mandy Patterson didnt have time to help in the classroom when her oldest child attended Oak Grove Elementary near Apex; she had a preschooler and newborn at home.
But Patterson got involved in the schools parent-teacher association. She served for a year as treasurer, two years as president and is now in her second year as vice president of fundraising and family nights.
Because of her work with the group, Patterson started her own nonprofit, Pajama Pals, which collects pajamas and books for children in need, especially those who are ill.
Last month, Patterson was one of 12 people nationwide honored at an event at the White House for her work with the PTA and Pajama Pals. She was named a Champion of Change and visited the White House for a day-long program honoring ordinary Americans doing great work in their communities. Q: How did your work with the Oak Grove PTA lead to Pajama Pals?
The Oak Grove PTA has a special fund that helps kids who cant afford certain things: field trips, supplies, things like that. Its called the Friends of the Otter Fund. Its been around since before we came to the school.
The fund made me realize that there are still a lot of kids who need help in Cary. I wanted to get involved in a nonprofit that helped local kids, so I tried to volunteer. But many of them have a different focus; they may not help schools or WakeMed Social Services or kids over at UNC.
I talked to my husband, and he said to go for it. I started my own 501c3, which became Pajama Pals. Q: Who does Pajama Pals serve?
We have helped schools in Wake County, victims of a fire in Boone, a boy in Charlotte, the Credit Union Family House in Chapel Hill and the Ronald McDonald House.
We even adopted a whole school in Siler City. The kids had to earn 100 compliments to get a pajama party, and everyone earned new pajamas and books. There were about 700 students. Q: How did your organization take off?
I applied for a Disney partnership, and they listed Pajama Pals in one of their vendor directories. We received 50,000 donations in four months. We had 300 families that came through with their own donation drives, and we had a storage shed donated to us so we could store all of the items. Q: Tell me about the Champions of Change visit.
In the first part of August, my husband nominated me. I was in Zumba class when I got the phone call that I needed to be in Washington, D.C., at the White House in one week.
When I got there, we got a tour of the East Wing, and we met Bo the (presidents) dog. Then we went to the Eisenhower Building and met Jack Lew, the White House Chief of Staff, and some of Mrs. Obamas staff. We 12 Champions of Change from across the country were honored. They wanted to showcase ordinary people who took their causes to a larger scale. They also wanted to point out that even the smallest things you can do at your school can help. Q: Whats next for you?
Next year, I will be on the nominating committee for the North Carolina PTA. I will go around the state and recruit members for the state and local chapters. I will help struggling PTA chapters.
It is so important to be involved in your childs school. You can make a difference just by visiting and enjoying the time with your kids.