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Meet Catherine Pisacane of Project Smile

Today we’d like to introduce you to Catherine Pisacane.

Catherine, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am the founder and Executive Director of Project Smile, the non-profit organization dedicated to helping children who are victims of traumatic events.

Project Smile donates stuffed animals, reading books, coloring books and crayons to police and fire departments for emergency responders to give to children. Since its founding in October 2003, we have donated over 41,000 stuffed animals and work with 200 police and fire departments in New England. Many of the children who receive these items were involved in car accidents, witnessed domestic violence, are victims of child abuse, coping with the loss of a loved one, or sick/injured.

Project Smile also partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide stuffed animals and other items for children entering foster care in Massachusetts. Many of these children have few, if any, personal possessions with them. Project Smile also partners with homeless shelters and donates items for children living in shelters.

I started Project Smile in October 2003 after reading a newspaper article about four New Jersey brothers who were starved by their adoptive parents. The article went on to say that a police officer who responded to the scene gave one of the boys a stuffed tiger which he kept in his cruiser. The boy clung to the stuffed animal, refusing to let it go. I was inspired to start a program which would provide police officers in Massachusetts with stuffed animals to be given to children involved in traumatic situations.

At the time, I was running the extended day program for a Metro West middle school. I organized a stuffed animal drive in the school and we collected over 1,500 stuffed animals! We made donations to Worcester and Framingham police departments along with a few others. The feedback from the police departments and from families wanting to donate stuffed animals was great. I continued working on Project Smile and in April 2004, the organization was officially incorporated.

Over the years, we have expanded to work with fire departments, the MA Dept. of Children & Families (DCF) and homeless shelters and to provide additional items. We organize Baby Shower events for DCF and participate in creating Easter baskets for DCF and we do an annual Christmas party for children at a Boston shelter.

Through Project Smile, I’ve had the opportunity to organize many different kinds of fundraising events, including galas, fashion shows and Halloween festivals. For 10 years we organized a charity date auction in Boston in which dates with Boston’s most eligible singles are auctioned off. The event was Boston’s biggest fall singles event and even resulted in 2 marriages and a baby being born!

The last 15 years have been a dream. I consider myself lucky to have been able to start Project Smile and make it my full-time career. I would like to thank all the people who have supported my work and made everything possible- family members, volunteers, friends, sponsors and donors. Without them, it would never been able to last.

I run Project Smile by myself, but I am very grateful to the wonderful volunteers and others who support the work that I do. I got where I am today by never giving up and always remembering to take baby steps. Big goals aren’t achieved in a day, so one has to be satisfied with small daily progress.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Running a business is never a smooth road. Fundraising is a constant challenge and requires daily effort to raise the funds needed to run Project Smile and to keep growing.

We obtain funds through grants, 2 large gala events and individual donations. I spend a lot of time working on outreach both in-person at various events and online through social media. You have to be constantly working to get people’s attention and share your efforts with them.

Right now, we are working hard on our upcoming Pre-Boston Fashion Week gala, Fashion on Fire (Friday, Sept. 28, 7pm, Hilton Woburn) hosted by Antoinette Antonio morning anchor on News Channel 5 Boston , which will feature a fashion show with Boston’s top designers and rising talent, amazing music and dance performances, cocktail party sponsored by Svedka, special vendors with unique shopping opportunities and silent auction.

Events take a tremendous amount of time, energy and effort to organize. It is a challenge to bring many people together, all of who are donating their time and services. It also takes a lot of time to obtain sponsors, donations of auction items and work on promoting the event to get a good turnout.

I am very lucky to have my friend Olga Kwasniewski as the Production Director for Fashion on Fire. She has dedicated many hours to make sure our event will be a success and has obtained a fabulous line up of designers and performers. Last year’s Fashion on Fire was sold out and we’re expecting another great turnout this year.

Project Smile – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are very excited to launch a new program, Suits & Smiles, which will be providing low-income men with business attire for job interviews. This program will be based in the Boston area but will serve men from all over the region.

Our goal is to empower low-income men to attain the jobs they need to improve their lives and become financially independent. Suits & Smiles will provide a personalized styling experience where men are outfitted with professional clothes for job interviews.

Men will receive individual attention from a volunteer personal stylist who will work with them to select the most appropriate clothing. Men will also receive additional attire to wear for work. I am thrilled to launch Suits & Smiles. The program will help us provide assistance for more people in need.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I feel the most proud when I hear the stories of when our stuffed animals are used. To know that we were able to make a difference and help bring some comfort to a scared and upset child means so much to me.

It gets me through the difficult days when it seems like nothing is going right and everything is too difficult. I’ve received emails directly from a few mothers whose children received our stuffed animals. They were so thankful and appreciative of our efforts, it made me feel very happy.

I am also proud to be able to start a new program to help men in need. Many of us take for granted being able to have the right outfit in our closet to wear for a job interview.

Imagine not having that and having to scramble to find something that may or may not be appropriate. Imagine not getting that job you need because you didn’t have the clothes to make a good impression. There are programs to help women in this position, but there isn’t a program in our area for men. It’s time for that to change.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Hill Zhou

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