By Donna Loughlin

Genevieve Piturro spent her whole career with the single-minded goal of rising as high as she could up the corporate ladder. For nearly two decades, she worked in broadcasting and eventually became vice president of a large television syndication firm in New York City.

But it wasn’t enough. Something, she felt, was missing. Had she focused too much on her career at the expense of having her family? Was the vampirish world of broadcasting and public relations truly fulfilling? She found she had more questions than answers — so she went off in search of some.

And it all started with a story.

Genevieve visited an emergency shelter for neglected and abused children and asked if she could read stories to the kids before bed. After reading the first story on the first night, she was changed forever. She can’t recall the name of the story today, but she does remember feeling something she’d never felt before.

“I felt connected to something bigger,” Genevieve told me. “I certainly felt compassion and a connection with these children who had been through so much. I didn’t have to know their stories — I could see it on their faces.”

That was the night that giving became Genevieve’s life. Her new life.

She began reading to children at night once a week after work, usually still in her business suit and heels. One night, she watched as the children were led back to the futons and cots where they would sleep and she noticed their clothes: dirty, threadbare, ill-fitting. And not one of them wore pajamas. They slept in the same clothes they’d worn all day — and probably would wear again the next day.

The next time she showed up to read, she brought pajamas for every child in the shelter. They were delighted. Genevieve was hooked.

“I felt like it just took over and there wasn’t even a conscious decision that I made because I just became obsessed,” she said. “I had to keep my day job because I had to pay the mortgage, but I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t really make a plan, I just followed my heart.”

Her heart led her to launch her own nonprofit, which she called Pajama Program. She started small, trying to deliver as many pajamas to as many children in New York City as she could. But as word got out, more requests came in and she fulfilled every one. Since its official launch in 2001, Pajama Program has delivered more than seven million books and pajamas to kids in shelters while expanding to include more than 63 chapters across the U.S.

And today, she’s hoping her experience can inspire others. She recently launched a motivational speaking career and published her first book: Purpose, Passion, and Pajamas: How to Transform Your Life, Embrace the Human Connection and Lead with Meaning.

“I’ve learned it’s not the power of one that changes things,” said Genevieve. “It’s the power of one another that moves mountains and moves people. And that’s what I want to share. And I want people to know they have the power to spark a movement to make change by sharing their story from the heart. That’s what I mean by purpose and passion. They’re from your heart. And we’re all the lucky ones.”

To listen and subscribe to the Before IT Happened podcast, visit www.beforeithappened.com.