Volunteering and giving back

Stefanie Wolff holds one of many boxes of art supplies she donated to Matheny. At left is her mother, Susan Wolff; at right is Janice Kriegman, Matheny development officer.

Stefanie Wolff, a seventh grader at the Marlboro Memorial Middle School in Marlboro, NJ, learned about Matheny when she visited her cousin, Jenna Polyeff, a Matheny resident. As a result, Stefanie volunteered at Matheny, participating in music and storytelling events.

Recently, as her bat mitzvah project at Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, NJ, Stefanie spoke about her volunteering experience and collected art supplies, which she then donated to Matheny. Stefanie had also attended Jenna’s bat mitzvah, which was held last May in Matheny’s Robert Schonhorn Arts Center.

Community get-together

Far Hills Country Day School students learned about adapted bowling during a recent visit by Matheny students and staff.

Have you ever raced in a power wheelchair? Communicated without talking? Painted without using your hands? Played basketball sitting down?

Matheny is inviting members of the Peapack-Gladstone community to find out how physical, occupational, speech, music, recreation therapy and art help improve the quality of life for its students and patients. The informal introduction to Matheny’s Therapy and Arts Access programs will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday, November 2, in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center at Matheny, 65 Highland Ave. in Peapack. This event will include fun-filled, hands-on activities that are very kid-friendly, so community members are encouraged to bring the entire family.

Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by calling (908) 234-0011, ext. 282, or emailing volunteers@matheny.org.

A Matheny student demonstrates adapted hockey to a student at the Old Farmers Road School in Long Valley, NJ. At left is Cindy LaBar, Matheny director of physical therapy.

‘The Time of Her Life’

Bella Walton and her mother, Betsy, with Matheny resident Tasha Santiago-O’Keefe.

When Bella Walton was three years old, she sometimes accompanied her mother, Betsy, when she volunteered at  Matheny. Those visits left a powerful impression on Bella and, by the time she was a seventh grader at the Far Hills, NJ, Country Day School, the Peapack, NJ, resident had become a regular weekly visitor to Matheny. She is now a senior at the Pingry Upper School in Basking Ridge, NJ, and she still comes every Monday to Matheny to spend some time with the students and patients.

“We talk or go outside if the weather’s nice,” Bella says. “It feels great to be able to brighten up someone’s day. Sometimes we’ll pretend we’re in a haunted house or at Disneyland.”

There have been many special memories during the years she has volunteered, but one particularly memorable moment occurred last month on one of her Monday night visits. Music therapist Megan Chappius was conducting a group sing-along in one of the Matheny dining rooms, and one Matheny resident requested “The Time of My Life” from the movie Dirty Dancing. As soon as Chappius started playing the song on the piano, everyone became very excited and started singing along very loudly and excitedly. “We were all singing and dancing,” Bella said. “It turned out to be a big performance.” The song is a Matheny favorite, according to Chappius, “so everyone usually gets amped up to sing it.”

Bella will be going off to college next fall, and she will miss coming to Matheny, but she plans to return for visits during her holiday breaks. She is one of a number of Matheny volunteers from high schools in the area. (Besides Pingry, the schools include Bernards, Ridge, Immaculata, West Morris Mendham, Morristown–Beard, Bridgewater–Raritan, Watchung Hills, Voorhees, Mount St. Mary Academy, Randolph, Delbarton and Marlboro Memorial.) The high school students usually visit with specific residents or serve as recreation assistants. Matheny students and patients like the same music, games, sports and movies as everyone else. For those who take the opportunity to discover each person’s individuality, the rewards are great. For more information about volunteering, contact the volunteer services office at (908) 234-0011, ext. 282.

Volunteers welcome

Madison Junior students help celebrate Hat Day.

Although the calendar still says summer, there is a fall feel in the air. The Matheny School is back in session, and adult patients have begun class schedules.

Evening and weekend recreation activities are open to all registered volunteers who would like to help. In addition, a few volunteers are needed to assist with our computer lab on Monday and/or Wednesday evenings. Other volunteer activities include being a classroom aide or just a friendly visitor.

If you are not already registered as a Matheny volunteer, contact the volunteer services office at 908.234.0011, ext. 282, or email volunteers@matheny.org. Matheny’s volunteer services office strives to place helpers in positions that meet both their interests and availability.

We need your help, and we think you’ll find the experience rewarding and enjoyable.

A Pingry student assists in the classroom.

Summer buddies

Long Valley Middle School students, from left, Zach Miller, Matt Blount and Mark Boiko visit with Matheny student Jamil Jones.

“This has been really fun!” That’s how one student from Long Valley Middle School described his weekly visits to Matheny this summer. About 14 LVMS students have been coming to Matheny once a week since July in an initiative started by Marie Peppas, a member of St. Luke’s Parish, where all the boys in the group belong and have been life-long friends.

The group helped out at Matheny’s swimming pool and with classroom activities, and they even did some weeding on the grounds. Most importantly, the students struck up friendships with some of Matheny’s students and patients. They plan to continue their Matheny visits after school starts, but will probably reduce their frequency to monthly.

Volunteers from the community are needed at Matheny during weekdays, evenings and weekends. Individuals can serve as recreation assistants, classroom aides, tutors or just friendly visitors.  For more information, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 282, or email volunteers@matheny.org.

Versatile volunteer

Amy Bell with Matheny student Tasha Santiago-O’Keefe.

Shortly after her family moved from Atlanta to Peapack, NJ, in August of last year, Amy Bell noticed the Matheny sign at the intersection of Main Street and Highland Avenue.  “I looked Matheny up online,” she recalls, “contacted the Volunteer Services Department and came up for a tour.”

In September, Bell began volunteering “wherever they needed me.” That includes helping out with the Tea Time Café, a snack bar run by Matheny students for employees; assisting with the students’ sandwich shop sales; and providing assistance to the Transportation Department when students are preparing to go on special trips.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the staff,” she said, “and seeing what they do on a day-to-day basis. I’m amazed at what the students get to experience.” Bell’s husband works for Verizon, and the move from Atlanta was triggered by a transfer to the company’s Basking Ridge, NJ, office. So far, Bell loves living in Peapack, where she says “everyone is very welcoming.”

Matheny needs volunteers from the community during weekdays, evenings and weekends. Individuals can serve as recreation assistants, classroom aides, tutors or just friendly visitors. To get more information, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 282, or email volunteers@matheny.org.

Weekend volunteers

St. Thomas Syro Malabar volunteer Amal Benny of Basking Ridge with adult resident William McGrory.

Weekend mornings and afternoons at Matheny are always filled with a variety of activities for our students and patients, provided by Matheny’s music and recreation therapy staffs. And those activities are always enhanced by the presence of volunteers from the community.

On a recent Saturday, two different church youth groups participated in recreation and music programs. In the morning, volunteers from St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Somerset helped Matheny students and patients with a variety of activities. In the afternoon, volunteers from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bernardsville participated in a game of musical chairs.

Volunteers are needed at Matheny during weekdays and evenings and on weekends. Individuals can serve as recreation assistants, classroom aides, tutors or just friendly visitors.

Our Lady of Perpetual Church volunteer Lisa Lamaire of Bernardsville with student Katherine Gaudio.

‘Pursue your dreams’

Vraj Desai celebrates with the help of physical therapist Glenn Stackhouse and teaching assistant Holly Staul.

After 47 years in the packaging and display industry, Larry Thornton was wondering how he would fill up his days when he retired in 2008. He no longer has such worries. After moving to Peapack-Gladstone, NJ, in 2011, he discovered Matheny and started volunteering one day a week in a Matheny School science class. He now volunteers three days a week and serves on Matheny’s Board of Trustees and its Community Advisory committee.

For these reasons, there was no more appropriate keynote speaker for The Matheny School’s graduation ceremony June 12. Thornton’s affection for Matheny and its students was evident. Volunteering in the school, he said, “is inspiring to me.” As he relived his first tour of Matheny through a symbolic tour he gave the graduating students, he urged the graduates to “work hard and pursue your dreams. Never give up.”  Matheny, he added, “is an exceptional school and a model for the state and the nation.”

Sean Murphy, Matheny School principal, said the graduation ceremony “celebrates the achievements of the entire Matheny community. Their dreams and the dreams of their parents are our goal.” Other speakers included Chris King, Matheny vice president of operations; Daniel McLaughlin, chair of the Matheny Board of Trustees; Thomas Belding, president of the Matheny School Board; and William Horton, mayor of Peapack-Gladstone. The graduates were Catherine Aragona, Christopher Asbell, Bruno Correia, Vraj Desai, Mark O’Connell, Tasha Santiago-O’Keefe and Aaron Turovlin.

Larry Thornton congratulates Ana Correia and her son Bruno.

Becoming part of the Matheny family

Larry Thornton helps out at a Matheny Hoops for Heart fundraiser for the American Heart Association.

By Larry Thornton

At first, I started volunteering at Matheny one day a week. During this time, I focused on learning each of the students’ names and getting an understanding of their medical conditions. Additionally, this gave me an opportunity to establish a working rapport with the administrators, teachers and staff who make this incredible facility possible. As time went on, my assistance was utilized beyond the classroom, which provided me with a greater knowledge of the medical center and school and increased my desire to help.

My many experiences at Matheny—including a pep rally, a student talent show and a graduation ceremony, as well as my time in the classroom—provided me with a greater understanding of the myriad services and opportunities available to Matheny’s children. As I sat in the beautiful arts center, I remembered reading one of the articles in a newsletter about the facility. The headline said: “The Therapists and Caregivers at Matheny View the Students as Capable Children with No Predetermined Limits on their Achievements.” This article was based on the comments of a Matheny parent, Julie Gordon, and highlighted The Matheny School’s conviction that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. The events I witnessed truly exemplify the wisdom of Julie’s message.

By the end of June, I was volunteering three days a week and, for the first time, I was filling my retirement void. As I volunteer at this amazing place, what strikes me most is  the school’s goal to enhance the emerging skills of each student. This is achieved through the loving care provided by the devoted staff in a creative, upbeat and positive environment. I can truly say that miracles happen every day at Matheny.

(Second of two articles)

Matheny carolers

Bottom row, from left: Pito Walton of Peapack; Frances and Charlotte Steele of Bedminster; Bella Walton, Peapack. Top row, from left: Jane Steele; Betsy Walton; Joan Millard of Toms River, NJ; Ali Millard and Lily Steele of Bedminster; and Mrs. Orr, visiting from Florida. (Also caroling, but not pictured, were Susan, Emma, Ellie and Ryan Palmer of Oldwick).

Jane Steele of Bedminster, NJ, and Betsy Walton of Peapack, NJ, and their families have been visiting Matheny’s students and patients on a regular basis for years. Several years ago, they decided to sing Christmas carols during one of their weekly visits.

“We invited friends to join us,” recalls Steele, “and got a very large turnout. Each year the same friends are excited to return and sing. It is a wonderful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. One year we brought a very large homemade gingerbread house and the children dipped the hard candies in the gooey icing and stuck them on the house. They loved it!”

The majority of Matheny students and patients are full-time residents, and volunteers are welcome days, evenings and weekends. For more information about volunteering, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 282.

Mitzvah for Matheny

“Mitzvah” is Hebrew for “good deed,” and Courtney Ober, a resident of Wanaque, NJ, recently did a mitzvah for Matheny. Ober needed to fulfill a charitable giving requirement for her Bat Mitzvah at the Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ. The eighth grader at the Morristown-Beard School in Morristown, NJ, had been volunteering at Matheny since sixth grade, and so it was only natural that she thought of Matheny as a beneficiary.

Courtney Ober, left, and her sister Jordan with the Mitzvah clothing collection.

“When I sent out my invitations,” she said, “I included a request for everyone to bring a new article of clothing to the temple service with them. The day of my service I was amazed at how many clothes people donated! There was a huge box stuffed with goodies.”

The Monday after her November Bat Mitzvah, Courtney and her sister Jordan, a 10th grader at Morristown-Beard, went to Matheny to volunteer as usual, and their mother met them there with the box of clothes. “It really felt good,” she said, “to give these nice clothes to people that mean so much to me.”

The Ober sisters are part of a group of Morristown-Beard students who visit Matheny every Monday to help out with recreation therapy activities and interact socially with students and patients. For more information about volunteering, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 282, or email volunteers@matheny.org.

Taking the plunge

Centenary student Anthony Pare sharing a humorous moment with Matheny student Mark O’Connell.

Every semester incoming students at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, take part in a day-long community service project called the Community Plunge. The project is mandatory for all new students and offers them a selection of different sites at which they can volunteer. This year’s Community Plunge was held on Monday, August 26, and Matheny was one of 18 different organizations that were included.

The students spent the entire day participating in several recreation therapy activities including relay races and adapted sports. Recreation therapy at Matheny provides our students and patients with a variety of recreation opportunities and resources to improve their physical, emotional, cognitive and social well being.

Volunteers are needed to help out in recreation therapy activities evenings and weekends. Volunteers can serve as recreation assistants, classroom aides, tutors or just friendly visitors. For more information, call Gail Cunningham, at (908) 234-0011, ext. 282; or email her at volunteers@matheny.org.

Centenary student Nicolena Marrero getting ready for a catch in the egg in toss competition.


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