‘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.