Rich Schwenn, left, accompanying India Jones in the wheelchair walk at last year’s Miles for Matheny, along with, from left, Berkeley Heights, NJ, residents Frank Scacciaferro, Kevin Moore and Matheny occupational therapist Dominque Scacciaferro.
Rich Schwenn has been volunteering for 14 years at Mane Stream, an Oldwick, NJ-based organization that provides adaptive horsemanship and equine-assisted therapies for children and adults with special needs. Matheny brings students and adults to Mane Stream twice a year for spring and fall therapy sessions, and, about five years ago, Schwenn met Matheny student India Jones. “I sometimes act like a clown,” he confesses, “and India has a tendency to laugh very hard.” The chemistry between the two was instantaneous, and a couple of Matheny staff members suggested that Schwenn, a resident of Bogota, NJ, come to Matheny for a visit.
Says Schwenn: “I had noticed in some of the Matheny literature that the school encourages ‘friendly visits to a particular student,’ so I started coming about once a month to visit with India. In addition, I try to be there on special days such as Christmas and her birthday.” Bogota is about an hour’s drive away, but Schwenn also attends Matheny events such as the prom, held in Randolph, NJ, and Miles for Matheny, the annual fundraiser and community event held in downtown Peapack, NJ.
At this year’s Miles for Matheny, on June 1, Schwenn will be a walking partner for India in the Lu Huggins Wheelchair Walk, accompanied by his 15-year-old grandson Nicholas and 12-year-old granddaughter Olivia, who will be making the trip from Manahawkin, NJ. “They’ve heard about India,” he says, “and they’ve seen photos.” It’s important, he adds, for his grandchildren “to be in this environment, to learn that it’s not all about ‘you.’” As for his connection to Matheny, Schwenn says that “words cannot describe this experience. It’s an atmosphere that enriches me.”
For more information about Miles for Matheny, log onto www.milesformatheny.org or call (908) 234-0011, ext. 260. All funds raised will help support the Matheny Center of Medicine and Dentistry, where more than 800 of New Jersey’s kids, teens and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities have access to the best possible medical, dental and therapy care. Major Miles sponsors include the Poses Family Foundation, the Golub family, Partlow Insurance, Peapack-Gladstone Bank, Porzio Bromberg & Newman PC Attorneys at Law, BP Fueling Communities, Delta Dental of New Jersey, Inc., WCBS-TV and WCBS Newsradio 880.
Rich Schwenn, right, with India Jones and physical therapy aide Erin McHugh.