Like a ‘Second Family’

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T.J. Rasmussen helps out in a Matheny School classroom, assisting student Nicholas Barros.

Four years ago, a family friend suggested to T.J. Rasmussen that she might want to volunteer at Matheny. “I came to visit,” Rasmussen says, “and I fell in love with it.” To Rasmussen, a resident of Bedminster, NJ, Matheny is like a “second family.” She visits regularly, helping out in Matheny School classrooms, participating in recreation therapy activities or just socializing with the students and patients.

Matheny is just one of Rasmussen’s volunteer activities. She’s also a member of the Far Hills-Bedminster Rescue Squad and volunteers at Mane Stream, the Oldwick-based facility that offers adaptive horsemanship for individuals with disabilities. An added plus at Mane Stream is an opportunity to interact with Matheny School students when they go there for weekly therapeutic horseback riding sessions. Rasmussen is currently studying for her associate’s degree online and plans to either continue her education at Raritan Valley Community College or join the Air Force and become a paramedic.

Volunteers are needed at Matheny weekdays, evenings, and on 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



‘More for Matheny’

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Sneha Tanackal, center, and Teresa Nguyen help Matheny student Jasmine Fleming make volunteer thank you cards.

Teresa Nguyen, a student at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, NJ, began volunteering at Matheny in the fall of 2013. She has been a regular volunteer since then and formed a club called “More for Matheny”, which raises money from  bake sales and raises awareness about Matheny among other students at WHRHS.

Nguyen helps out wherever she can at Matheny, sometimes working on classroom or recreation activities; other times, just visiting. Her primary motivation, she says, “is just being able to see the students and patients smile.” At Matheny’s Volunteer Recognition Day, held Monday, August 24, Nguyen and Sneha Tanackal, a friend from Mount Saint Mary Academy, also in Warren, helped Matheny School students make thank you cards to be sent to other volunteers.

Volunteers are needed at Matheny weekdays, evenings and on 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

In the Swing

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Bonnie Gould chooses her golf shirts.

The Second Chance Shop, the Gladstone thrift shop operated by The Friends of Matheny, was packed by mid-morning on August 19, for “First Chance at Second Chance”, a one-day opening of the shop from 8:30 am. to 5:30 p.m. Located adjacent to the United Methodist Church on Jackson Avenue, the shop will reopen for the 2015-16 season on Wednesday, September 1. Among the early shoppers was Bonnie Gould, a resident of Basking Ridge, who was making only her second visit. Gould said she was impressed by the selection of golf shirts and was having trouble making a selection.

All proceeds from sales at Second Chance support the children and adults at the Matheny.



Matheny’s ‘Paraprofessional of the Year’

When Donna Hoehn is working as a physical therapy assistant in a Matheny School classroom, her goal is to get as many students as possible “to experience life outside their wheelchairs.” Sitting in a wheelchair all day, Hoehn points out, is a little like “sitting in your car all day. Though you can move from one place to another, your position in relation to others never changes—you are still in your car.” Hoehn, a resident of Gillette, NJ, has been working at Matheny for more than 16 years. “My grandfather and his family were from Peapack,” she says, “so growing up, I often came to this area to visit. I had volunteered at Matheny before attending physical therapy assistant school.”


Donna Hoehn works with student Megan Blaxill on sitting balance, trunk strengthening, and stretching — all while Megan is out of her wheelchair.

Hoehn has an AS in PTA and a BS in biology from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ.  She started at Matheny after taking a three-year break from PT to drive a tractor-trailer with her husband. “It was a lifelong desire,” she says. In 2009, Hoehn was selected as Physical Therapy Practitioner of the Year by ADVANCE for Physical Therapists & PT Assistants, a physical therapy news magazine. And this year, she was nominated by her Matheny School peers as their “Paraprofessional of the Year”.  She is one of four finalists in the statewide competition in that category held by ASAH, a not-for-profit organization that serves the private special education community in New Jersey.

Three years after she joined Matheny, Hoehn unexpectedly lost her husband. Shortly after that, a young boy who had been a victim of shaken baby syndrome was admitted to Matheny, and he stole Hoehn’s heart. She eventually applied to become his foster parent and later legally adopted him. That was 10 years ago, but six years ago when Hoehn won the ADVANCE award, she told the magazine that her son, George, “really captures what I try to bring to everything I do.” George, now 17, attends the Midland School in North Branch, and, in Hoehn’s words, “is flourishing. He uses an electronic communication device for verbalization; he plays many sports; and he has worked at many different job locations and types of career exploration. His patience when trying to learn or master a new skill always reminds me how important it is to give each of the students the time and support they need to accomplish what they need and want to do.”

Hoehn was “honored to be nominated by my peers” for the ASAH award. “I work with an exceptional staff,” she says. “They are innovative, considerate, helpful, and truly caring about the students and patients.” One of the aspects of Matheny that is very special, she says, is a system that enables students with significant disabilities to learn in the classroom while, at the same time, “continuing to work on physical activities to improve their function. The staff is willing to integrate and implement a variety of strategies to meet each student’s needs.”

Surf’s Up

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Matheny School student Shane Szott rides a wave.

Thanks to the Best Day Foundation, several Matheny School students were able to go surfing at Asbury Park Beach on Sunday, August 2.

The BDF’s mission is to enable children and young adults with special needs to build confidence and self-esteem through adventure activities that stretch their limits, expand their true potential, reinforce achievement, and connect them with diverse populations in their community.

The day started with some time to play in the sand and complete an obstacle course with a special guest, Spiderman. Then, a team of volunteers took the students onto the boards to help them catch a wave. The activities wrapped up with an awards ceremony and lunch.

A Very Special Day


Zoey Mitzner, a student at Wiliam Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, NJ, was always aware of Matheny, but, admittedly, “didn’t know much about it.” When she started thinking about a project for her bat mitzvah, she recalled that,“I wanted to help others and try to put a smile on as many faces as I could. I started researching, and Matheny looked like a perfect fit!” Mitzner met with Gail Cunningham, coordinator of volunteer activities, and David Curcio, volunteer assistant, and decided to create a “day of beauty” for some of the female students and patients.

“I then gathered my sister, Maddie, and two close friends, Adriana Giordano and Kathleen Finn,” she said. “Together we purchased all the supplies and extras to make this day as special as possible and, hopefully, unforgettable. We all can’t stop talking about our amazing experience at Matheny and our new friends. We only hope it was as meaningful for them as it was for us.”

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Zoey Mitzner and Matheny adult resident, Misty Hockenbury, during the ‘Day of Beauty’ event.

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From left, Maddie Mitzner, Adriana Giordano, Zoey Mitzner, and Kathleen Finn.

Mitzner’s bat mitzvah will be held August 15 at the Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, NJ. “As part of my speech,” she said, “I plan on sharing our special day at Matheny and encouraging all of my friends to volunteer in the future. I will certainly be volunteering again at Matheny, with even more friends, possibly at Halloween and during the holidays. Trust me, this is only the beginning!”