‘Unexpected Art’ in Wharton

Marilyn Lukach, left, and library assistant Darlene Darling admire “Butterfly” by Tammy Heppner.

Marilyn Lukach, a resident of Wharton, NJ, is past president of the Wharton Public Library. She and her husband, Robert, have attended Full Circle, the annual celebration of Matheny’s Arts Access Program, several times, and she wanted to share some of the visual art with her fellow residents.

As a result, “Unexpected Art,” the creative works of 11 Arts Access artists, can be viewed at the Wharton Public Library in July and August during library hours. The mission of the Arts Access Program is to provide individuals with disabilities the freedom to create in the visual, literary and performing arts.

Grand Knights visit

From left, Larry Thornton of Gladstone, NJ, Matheny volunteer and past Grand Knight; Matheny president Steve Proctor; Bob Warren of Martinsville, immediate past Grand Knight; and John Arcoleo of Martinsville, newly elected Grand Knight.

Members of  Knights of Columbus Council 5959 at Blessed Sacrament Church in Martinsville, NJ, recently visited Matheny to deliver a donation of $720 and to invite Matheny president Steve Proctor to attend a future Knights meeting to talk about Matheny’s programs and services. The plan is to open the meeting to the community at large.

Thanks to the Knights for their wonderful support of Matheny and for their efforts to spread the message about what we do to a wider audience!

Music on a sunny day

Student Daeon Troutman with music therapy intern Sabrina Deutsch.

Music therapists at Matheny use various types of music to positively impact students and patients’ cognitive, physical, emotional and social skills, helping them realize their potential in society. Activities and techniques include improvisation, rhythm, songwriting, song, chants, instrumental activities, live and recorded music.

On a recent Saturday morning, local DJ Craig Sinclair was scheduled to perform in the children’s dining room, but the weather was so perfect that everyone went outside. It was music therapy at its best.

Adult patient John Nguyen and recreation therapist Meghan Walsh.


Sharing his knowledge

Larry Thornton, helping out on a science project with, from left, student Tasha Santiago-O’Keefe; teaching assistant Kim White; and teacher Peggy Zappulla.

Larry Thornton started out volunteering one day a week in a classroom at The Matheny School. That one day has turned into three. The retired paper manufacturing executive lives in nearby Gladstone, and says, “Obviously, I enjoy this immensely. Coming here has been a real eye-opener for me to see this marvelous institution and what the staff members do to make the lives of these children as normal as possible.”

In addition to his classroom duties, Thornton had volunteered at Miles for Matheny, is a former member of the Board of Trustees at the now defunct McAuley School in North Plainfield, NJ and is a past Grand Knight at the Knights of Columbus Council of Blessed Sacrament Church in Martinsville. The KOC Council recently donated $720 to Matheny. Earlier this spring, Thornton helped out at Matheny’s “March Madness” event to raise money for the American Heart Association. During the event, our front parking lot was closed off and transformed into several adapted basketball courts.

Since the majority of Matheny students and patients are full-time residents, volunteers such as Larry Thornton are needed days, evenings and weekends. Individuals can serve as classroom aides, recreation assistants, tutors or just friendly visitors. For more information, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 282; or email volunteers@matheny.org.

Thornton at Hoops for Hearts with student Yasin Reddick.


Arts scholarship winners

Raven Bennett at the Scholarship Gala, with social worker Valerie Marcketta, center, and speech-language pathologist Brynna Cunningham.

Two Arts Access artists—student Raven Bennett and adult patient Bozena Geraghty—were among the 15 recipients of scholarships presented this past spring by the Dance Innovations Performance Foundation (DIPF ) at its annual Kids for Kids Scholarship Gala held at the Primavera Regency in Stirling, NJ. The Chatham, NJ-based DIPF was established in 1999 to give back to the community and to those less fortunate.

The scholarships were awarded to 14 special needs artists and to one organization serving children from domestic violence homes. DIPF raised funds through benefit performances, fundraising and private donations. Its student dancers also often perform at Matheny for students and patients.

Both Bennett and Geraghty are active in Matheny’s Arts Access Program, which enables people with disabilities to create fine art, assisted by professional artist-facilitators.

Learning to communicate

Jaclynne Dietrich helps Dylan communicate using a voice output switch.

Six-year-old Dylan Vongrej was born with Canavan disease, a disorder that causes progressive damage to nerve cells in the brain. Dylan is non-verbal and unable to walk, but, according to his mother Noreen, “He understands everything you’re saying.” He’s also learning to communicate, thanks to speech therapy he’s receiving from Matheny as part of its Solutions For Schools program.

Dylan is unable to physically attend school, but the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District has contracted with Matheny to have speech-language pathologist Jaclynne Dietrich visit Dylan twice a week. Dietrich is currently using two voice output switches to help Dylan communicate. “He’s pretty much mastered those,” Dietrich says. “We have programmed ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ and we make choices between music and books. And we have weather and numbers.  His vision is questionable, so we rely on his auditory abilities. We want to extend it beyond the two switches, so he can tell us what he wants to do and how he’s feeling. The iPad allows for that. There is auditory scanning and switches that connect to the iPad that will make things more accessible for him.”

“It’s amazing what Jackie has done with him,” says his mother. “He has really progressed with all of his therapists, but I’m partial to Matheny because you understand children like this more than anyone.” In addition to speech therapy through the Solutions program, the Vongrejs bring Dylan to Matheny’s outpatient clinic, the Matheny Center of Medicine and Dentistry, for both his seating-and-mobility and medical needs. “It’s great,” says his mother, “that everything is in one place.”

Help available through Matheny Solutions For Schools includes: specialized evaluations, therapy services, home-based services and adaptive equipment and assisitive technology. For more information, call Linda Newsome, Director of Community Services, at (908) 229-7342 or email her at mathenysolutions@matheny.org.

Dylan with, from left, his father Cliff, mother Noreen and speech-language pathologist Jaclynne Dietrich.

Fairness in special ed placements

Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande.

On June 20, the New Jersey State Assembly, by a vote of 74-0, passed legislation prohibiting public school boards from awarding bonuses to superintendents for reducing the number of special needs students placed out of district. Republican Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, from the 11th District, which includes several municipalities in Monmouth County, sponsored the bill.

In advocating for this law, Assemblywoman Casagrande said, “The most important consideration for special education is what’s best for the child. That decision should never be clouded by an administrator’s personal financial stake in the outcome.” Casagrande introduced the bill after some districts had allegedly begun awarding such bonuses. She added that, “Merit pay for outstanding educational achievement and reducing spending are commendable goals; however, not at the expense of special needs children.”

An article in the MoreMonmouthMusings blog had reported that Casagrande became aware of this issue last March while touring the Oakwood School, a non-profit, non-sectarian private school in Tinton Falls that serves adolescents with Asperger/autism. She told MMM that she put herself in the shoes of a parent already fighting for a special needs student and being confronted with an additional obstacle: a superintendent with a financial incentive to withhold the best educational opportunities.

Family involvement

Cindy LaBar and Matheny student Ryan O'Connor.

Cindy LaBar has always wanted to work with children. But she had never spent much time around kids with developmental disabilities until interning at Matheny in 2003 after receiving her MS in physical therapy from Columbia University. “It’s the small accomplishments that are so rewarding and are so huge for our students and patients,” she notes. For example, “one of my students had a really hard time holding up his head. By putting him on the therapy ball on his back, he was able to hold his head up for a brief time, and he broke into a big smile.”

After her internship, LaBar joined the Matheny staff and was named director of physical therapy in 2006. Ironically, her daughter Hanna was born with a rare chromosome anomaly as well as a cleft palate and heart defect. Hanna, who is now seven, is non-verbal and in a wheelchair, although, according to LaBar, “she can take about 20 steps alone.”

Her experience with Hanna has helped LaBar understand what the families of students and patients are faced with. “ You constantly have to be an advocate for your child—the right school, the right therapies. My focus here has shifted a little to really get involved with the families.”

Hanna has also had an impact on LaBar’s own family. “If my five-year-old son Jack sees a kid in a wheelchair,” she says, “he wants to know him.”

Cindy LaBar and her daughter Hanna.


Wheelchair safety on the road

John Reck.

Individuals riding in a vehicle while seated in wheelchairs are 45 times more likely to be injured in a crash than a typical passenger. That was one of the sobering facts pointed out by John Reck, Matheny’s director of assistive technology, at The Arc of New Jersey’s annual Conference on Medical Care for Persons with Developmental Disabilities held May 31 in Princeton, NJ.

In a session on Wheelchair Transportation Safety, Reck added that many injuries of wheelchair-seated passengers are caused by non-collision events such as abrupt turning maneuvers and hard braking. To prevent such accidents, Reck recommended always securing wheelchairs, using occupant restraints and removing loose accessories from the wheelchair, which might injure an occupant during impact.

The safest option, he said, is to transfer a wheelchair occupant into a manufacturer-installed vehicle seat and use the vehicle’s crash-tested occupant restraint system.

At Matheny, Reck heads the assistive technology program, which strives to meet the needs of each individual by providing the perfect match of assistive technology services and products in order to give each person the highest possible level of health, function and quality of life.

Pool party presents

Matt McDermott and Matheny student Nicholas Barros.

Matt McDermott’s gifts of toys and games to Matheny students have become an annual tradition.

This year, the fifth grader at Mount Prospect School in Basking Ridge, NJ,  asked guests coming to his family’s pool party to donate the toys and games, and then he and his mother visited Matheny to present them.

Thanks, Matt!



The power of assistive technology

Matheny student Michael Taurozzi uses a switch to access a computer, assisted by OT Wendell Lumapas.

Occupational therapy helps people regain, develop and build skills that are important for independent living and well-being. OTs often use assistive technology to help people with disabilities with life skills they couldn’t normally perform.

At Matheny, many students and patients are able to access a computer by using a switch. OTs train our children and adults to use any functional part of their body to activate a computer program. This use of assistive technology enables them to participate more fully in school activities, leisure activities and activities of daily living.

Positive learning environment

Locking hands and arms in aquatic therapy.

The mission of The Matheny School is to provide an integrated educational and therapeutic experience for students with a diverse range of abilities and disabilities. We do that by providing our students with the freedom to explore their own interests within a positive learning environment. We also:

  • Enhance the potential of our students through the development of Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) that focus on tailored, attainable goals and objectives.
  • Enrich our students’ daily living by increasing their gross motor, fine motor, visual and perceptual skills.
  • Provide our students with unlimited opportunities to learn through an interdisciplinary approach combining therapy treatment, social services, psychology and medical care in collaboration with classroom staff members.

Participating in adapted karate.


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