Honorary chair

Congressman Leonard Lance, visiting with Arts Access artist Luis Rodriguez.

U.S. Congressman Leonard Lance, whose district includes Peapack-Gladstone, will be the Honorary Chair for Full Circle 2013: Reflections, the 20th anniversary celebration of Matheny’s Arts Access Program, to be held November 2 in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center. Lance, who visited Matheny this past January, is co-chairman of the Congressional Arts Caucus. He has been a member of the New Jersey Council on the Humanities and a trustee of the Newark Museum and McCarter Theatre in Princeton.

Arts Access enables people with disabilities to create fine art assisted by professional artist-facilitators. Many of the Arts Access artists cannot speak and do not have control of their hands and arms. But their minds are intact, and they use unique methods that allow them to overcome their disabilities and express themselves in multiple artistic disciplines. The program was created in 1993 by the late Robert Schonhorn, former president of Matheny, and Dr. Gabor Barabas, former medical director.

Recently, Arts Access received a $10,000 Challenge America Fast-Track grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the 20th anniversary Full Circle celebratory event. It will include an exhibition displaying original artwork created by artists with disabilities and will feature guest artists who will help participants with disabilities create a culminating multimedia performance piece.

Graduation day

Graduate Sammy Heisler with Ms. Wheelchair New Jersey Maggie Redden.

The Matheny School’s Principal Sean Murphy congratulated the 10 graduates of the class of 2013 on June 18, pointing out that they “never said ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t.’”

And in an understatement, Yasin Reddick, the class valedictorian, said, “It took a lot of work to get to this point.” That work was recognized by those who spoke before diplomas were handed out. The students were congratulated by Steve Proctor, Matheny president; Daniel McLaughlin, chair of the Matheny Board of Trustees; William Horton, mayor of Peapack-Gladstone; and keynote speaker Maggie Redden, Ms. Wheelchair New Jersey 2013. And each speaker was introduced by a non-verbal Matheny graduate, who accomplished the task through switch activation technology.

Proctor paid tribute to Matheny’s founders, Walter and Marguerite Matheny and introduced their son Chuck, who still resides at Matheny. He also singled out some of the students’ accomplishments such as Sammy Heisler’s love of music, Bianca Mathis’ accomplishments with the Girl Scouts and Natalie Tomastyk’s job at a local yoga studio. Redden, who was part of the 2008 Paralympic Track and Field team in Beijing, encouraged the graduates to “persevere” and follow their dreams.

Physical therapist Erin Meineke, left, and teaching assistant Katie Wertheim help Bryan Desatnick 'walk' to receive his diploma from principal Sean Murphy.


Special Friends

Some of The Friends of Matheny officers for 2013-2014 gathered outside the Roxiticus Golf Club after their luncheon. From left, Lisa Novella, a resident of Peapack, corresponding secretary; Nancy Hojnacki, Bernardsville, vp membership; Liz Geraghty, Cranford, president; Karen Thompson, Gladstone, vp membership; and Jean Wadsworth, Basking Ridge, recording secretary.

The Friends of Matheny held its annual end-of-the season luncheon on June 5 at the Roxiticus Golf Club in Mendham, NJ, and Friends president Liz Geraghty handed Matheny president Steve Proctor a check for $60,000.

The Friends is an organization dedicated to providing support to Matheny, and, since its inception in 1983, the group has raised more than $3 million. Proctor thanked members for all they do, singling out such gifts as an adaptive bathtub and a new “Van Go” vehicle, which will help bring Matheny’s unique Arts Access Program to other facilities for people with disabilities.

Gary Eddey, MD, Matheny vice president and chief medical officer, spoke to The Friends about Matheny’s medical mission. “We care for children and adults with multiple chronic illnesses,” he said. “In our system of care, everybody works together, 24-7, 365 days a year, so that our children and adults can live a full rich life to the best of their abilities.”

Hitting the right notes

Max Berg with student India Jones and volunteer assistant David Curcio.

Music therapists at Matheny use various types of music to positively impact students’ and patients’ cognitive, physical, emotional and social skills. The music therapy program also makes it possible for students and patients to hear a variety of music – either at outside concerts or by having performers visit.

Max Berg, a resident of Gladstone, NJ, and a student at Bernards High School in Bernardsville, NJ, brought his guitar to Matheny on a recent Friday afternoon and entertained residents of the children’s wing with a variety of tunes including the Foo Fighters hit, “Big Me” and “Time of My Life”, a song from the soundtrack of the movie Dirty Dancing that was recorded later by the Black-Eyed Peas.

After the concert, Berg let the students strum his guitar and promised to be a frequent visitor.

Max Berg with student Katherine Gaudio.


Math-A-Thon for Matheny

Standing, from left, Matheny principal Sean Murphy, Matheny student Ryan O’Connor, teaching assistant Carlos Nieves, BHS student Isabella St. Onge, BHS student Tatiana Prendella, teaching assistant Chris Filchak, BHS student Pelin Ozel, Matheny teacher Karen Dakak, BHS student Fiona Dunn and BHS teacher LuAnn Faletta. Matheny students in front row, from left, Scott Gordon, Yasin Reddick, Kaila Jones and Patrick Conmy.

Every year students who belong to The Math League at Bernards High School in Bernardsville, NJ, hold a Math-A-Thon to raise money to benefit other students in the Somerset Hills area. This year they raised $695 and decided to donate the money to The Matheny School to support and enhance our mathematics program.

Some of the Math League students and their teacher, LuAnn Faletta, came to Matheny recently to deliver the gift, visit with Matheny students and take a tour of the school. Afterwards, Faletta,  expressing her appreciation for the tour, added: “I have talked to so many of my colleagues about how wonderful your school is and how impressed we were with everyone. The students and teachers are very special.”

Sammy’s confidence

Sammy Heisler.

During the first several years of his life, Sammy Heisler lived in a long-term care facility, where most doctors did not expect him to survive his many medical conditions. “How shocked they would all be to see how he has flourished,” says his mother, Doris Burman, a resident of Westfield, NJ. On Tuesday, June 18, Sammy will graduate from The Matheny School.

When Sammy first arrived at Matheny in January 1998, he was completely tube-fed. Since then, according to his mother, “Sammy has learned how to eat, handle a wheelchair and respond to familiar faces. But, by far, the greatest benefit Sammy received from Matheny is his self-confidence. The Matheny staff members have always treated Sammy and all the students with dignity and respect, and I strongly believe these interactions have enabled him to express his personality and develop into the charming young man he is today.”

Sammy initially came to Matheny, Burman recalls, because “he began to physically improve and soon became inquisitive about his environment. The long-term care facility was not geared toward development, and the Westfield School District knew about Matheny and agreed that it was an appropriate school for him.” As Sammy makes the transition into Matheny’s Adult Services Program, Burman says she “will always be grateful to this organization of dedicated, talented people.”

Sammy Heisler in Matheny’s sensory room with physical therapist Glenn Stackhouse.


‘Team’ player

Sean Murphy reads to Matheny student Ari Golub while Ari’s teacher Stacy Lafargue looks on.

Sean Murphy has two favorite words: “community” and “team.” He uses them frequently to explain the success of The Matheny School and to express his passion about its students, their families and his staff. “Together,” he says, “we tackle every issue. It’s important for teachers to see parents as partners and for the parents to see teachers as partners—everyone pulling together in the same direction for the benefit of the students. To create true opportunities, it takes a community, and it takes a team.”

Murphy, who grew up in Chesterfield, England, started working at Matheny 19 years ago as a personal care assistant and was named principal of The Matheny School in March. A resident of Washington, NJ, he received his BA in special education from New Jersey City University in 2001, became a special education teacher and was named vice principal in 2008. He also has an MA in urban education/administration and supervision from NJCU and is an adjunct professor in the psychology and education program at The College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown and is on the advisory board of the Education Department at Centenary College in Hackettstown.

Matheny’s students all have multiple disabilities, and many of them are non-verbal. That, in Murphy’s opinion, should not prevent them from reaching their highest level of academic achievement while also obtaining maximum independence. One way the school helps them reach those goals is through technology, but Murphy insists that Matheny “does not have an assistive technology program. Instead, we integrate assistive technology into every single program that we have. If there’s something that someone cannot do without technology, you use technology to even the playing field. Because of technology, our kids can walk using adapted devices; and they can communicate. They can do practically everything; we just have to figure out how.”

“The one thing that sets this school apart is the team-based experience,” Murphy adds.  “It’s not just rhetoric; people are vested to make things happen. The tenacity and innovation here is second to none. I’m just lucky to be able to leverage the skills of people who are already here.”

On-the-job training

At the Matheny School’s recent Open House, Matheny student Natalie Tomastyk talked about her work experience at the Gurukul Yoga Holistic Center with Ryan MacNaughton, assistant principal, special services, and Kathleen Simpson, special education case manager, at the Kittatinny Regional High School in Newton, NJ.

The Matheny School’s Transition program is designed to increase the independence of its students both within the school and in the surrounding community. One way that is accomplished is through community-based experiences and structured learning environments that simulate real-life working situations. Matheny students are currently receiving an opportunity to learn on-the-job skills at both the Bridgewater, NJ, Township Library and the Gurukul Yoga Holistic Center in Bridgewater.

Students also encounter an authentic work environment in the Tea Time Café, Matheny’s in-house school refreshment stand, equipped with an adapted cash register, AbleNet and Point-of-Sale technology. And they are able to enhance functional and social skills during weekly trips to local stores to apply what is learned in the classroom to real-world experiences.

Thriving at Matheny

Julie Gordon, speaking at The Matheny School Open House.

Scott Gordon is a 14-year-old student at The Matheny School. According to his mother Julie, Scott is “a caring, sensitive young teenager who is thriving at Matheny, thanks to the wonderful people who fill its halls.” Julie Gordon made those remarks at The Matheny School’s Open House, held May 21. Speaking to representatives from public school districts and other parents, she pointed out that Scott had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a developmental delay when he was about one year old.

“If I could sum up the Matheny experience in one phrase,” she said, “it would be ‘no limits.’ Simply put, the educators, therapists and caregivers at Matheny view my son, and all the students there, as capable children, with no predetermined limits on their achievements. There is no ‘one size fits all’ learning approach at Matheny. The educators know Scott and figure out what will work for him. The therapists push him to achieve all he can.  Scott is experiencing life to the fullest. I do not have the words to express the gratitude I feel to all those who work with our son.”

Dawg Pound returns

At the spring opening of the Dawg Pound, front row, from left, adult patients Mike Cornely, George Bracken and Taty Manousakis; back row, from left, adult patient Danny Teresi and adult services instructors Nicole Puopolo and Deanna Willard.

Matheny’s Dawg Pound, a retail enterprise designed to sharpen practical work skills for patients and students, has launched its spring season with new inventory consisting of magnets, ponchos and pajama pants.

The Dawg Pound was begun four years ago with startup funds of $5,000 provided by The Friends of Matheny, our auxiliary group, and Village Office Supply of Somerset, NJ. The operations are divided into three departments:  marketing, finance and sales/inventory. Teamwork, budgeting, effective advertising and customer service are all skills that have been learned by those working in the Dawg Pound, named after Matheny’s mascot, the Bulldog.

‘ARTS’ opening

From left, Arts Access director Eileen Murray, artist Cindy Shanks and Matheny president Steve Proctor.

Three artists from Matheny’s Arts Access Program attended the opening reception on May 19 for “New Jersey Medical School – ARTS,” an exhibit on display in the Medical Science Building of UMDNJ in Newark from May through August. The artists – Jessica Evans, Luis Rodriguez and Cindy Shanks – had paintings in the exhibit, along with nine other Arts Access artists. Arts Access enables people with disabilities to create fine art, assisted by professional artist-facilitators.

Art from three Arts Access satellite programs – the WAE Center of JSDD (Jewish Services for the Developmentally Disabled of Metrowest, Inc.) in West Orange, NJ; the Arc of Mercer County in Ewing, NJ; and Hattie Larlham in Twinsburg, Ohio – are part of the ARTS exhibit as well. In fact, staff members from Hattie Larlham, a facility for children and adults with developmental disabilities, visited Matheny on May 20 to spend the day with Arts Access staff members and artists.

Jessica Evans in front of her painting, “Trapped and I Can’t Get Out.”


Play ball!

Jackson Tantleff of Bernardsville, NJ, left, and Brennan Maillot of Gladstone, NJ, push Matheny student Kim Alarcon toward first base.

The annual baseball game played between members of the Somerset Hills Little League and students from Matheny is an event that participants on both teams look forward to every year with great anticipation. This year’s game, in which SHLL players helped the Matheny students bat and field and pushed their wheelchairs along the basepaths, was again a lively fun-filled event and truly uplifting for both participants and spectators.

The game was held on Friday, May 10, at the Kiwanis Rotary Little League complex in Bernardsville, NJ. Baseball is one of several adapted sports played by Matheny students and patients as part of Matheny’s recreation therapy program, which provides a variety of recreation opportunities and resources to improve physical, emotional, cognitive and social well-being.

Brad Dallas, left, and Ryan Tantleff, both of Bernardsville, NJ, with Matheny student Shane Szott.