‘Just Like Hanging Out With Friends’

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Patrick Dizon visits with adult resident Rasheedah Mahali.

Volunteering at Matheny, says Patrick Dizon, is “just like hanging out with friends.” Dizon, a senior at West Morris Central High School in Chester, NJ, started volunteering in the fall of 2012. “I began helping out with recreation activities and made some good friends among the students and patients. We listen to music and watch TV together.” During the school year, Dizon volunteers once a week, but during this past summer he was at Matheny about three times weekly.

Dizon discovered Matheny because his mother knew about it, but he urges “people who don’t know about Matheny to ask about it and try volunteering. The staff is very friendly, and the schedule can be very flexible.”

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 volunteers@matheny.org.


Gotta Dance

At Full Circle 2015 Perspectives, the annual celebration of Matheny’s Arts Access Program, Dani Urso King will be performing in a dance she also choreographed. It’s called “Zip A Dee Doo Dah”, and she promises that, “It is like nothing you have ever seen before. It’s got a lot of zip to it.”

King, who will be 25 on October 20, was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, due to an accident at birth. She is non-verbal, but communicates via a Dynavox augmentative communications device. According to her mother Robin, Dani has always possessed “a can do attitude. She is a lightning bolt; nothing gets in her way, and she always finds new ways to shine. She really has no idea what the word disability means. She knows her body does not always work the way she would like, but that has never stopped her.”

Dani has always loved dance. “My favorite,” she says, “is The Nutcracker. I’ve seen it many times, and I love the Christmas Spectacular at Rockefeller Center because you can feel the music, and your body just moves.” When Dani was 14, she saw a performance by Kitty Lunn, a professional dancer who had become a paraplegic as the result of an accident. “She saw me in the audience, and, after her show, she brought me up and danced with me. I never thought I could do anything like dancing before that.”

Three years ago, Dani’s teacher at the Lakeview School in Edison, NJ, told her about Matheny’s Arts Access Program, which enables individuals with disabilities to fully express themselves in the creative arts. She looked the program up online, and, according to her mother, “She came home and told me she was going to Matheny.” Now, she says, “Thanks to Matheny, I can dance, create, and express myself through dance.” She is looking forward to Full Circle because “It is amazing to be part of something that has so many talented people with disabilities in it. We are all different, yet still part of a unique community that links us together. Shows like this make us the rule, not the exception we so often find ourselves in.” Dani also paints and will have three Munny doll designs as part of the Full Circle visual arts exhibit. (Munny dolls are small action figures with moveable joints).

Full Circle will be held from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, November 7, in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center at Matheny. The visual arts exhibition, curated by Arts Access project and event coordinator Haeree Park will begin in the Arts Center gallery at 3 p.m. That will be followed by a multi-media stage presentation, produced by dance facilitator Heather Williams, that will feature original works in dance, drama, poetry, and creative writing.

Food and beverage sponsors are: Café Azzurro in Peapack; Gladstone Tavern in Gladstone; 3 West and Urban Table in Basking Ridge; cocoLuxe Fine Pastries in Peapack; and Village Office Supply in Somerset. Tickets to Full Circle are $40 and can be ordered by phone at (908) 234-0011, ext. 260; by email at pcats@matheny.org; or by registering online at events.matheny.org/Fullcircle2015. All event proceeds will benefit the Arts Access Program at Matheny.


Friends and Families

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Adult resident Andy Lash, with, clockwise from lower left: his nephew Jack, sister Morgan Kane, brother Justin and sister-in-law Melissa, holding newest addition to the family, Sam.

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Adult resident Amanda Kochell with her mother, Laura Lyttle.

The annual Matheny picnic is an occasion that brings families of students and patients and friends from the community together to visit with each other, enjoy a barbeque prepared by the Matheny culinary staff and savor the end of the summer season outdoors in a stress-free, spontaneous atmosphere. The weather on Saturday, September 12, was cloudy but mostly rain-free. The outdoor pool was open, and musical entertainment was provided by the singing of Geri Brewer, mother of adult resident Rasheedah Mahali;

Deli Delivers

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From left, Larry Thornton, Cesar Guerra, and Kendell R. Sprott, MD, JD.

Cesar Guerra, owner of Cesar’s Corner Deli in Peapack-Gladstone, also owns a landscaping company. During this past summer he brought a crew of volunteer workers to Matheny to do some weeding and general gardening work in the courtyard outside the Center of Medicine and Dentistry.

Kendell R. Sprott, MD, JD, Matheny’s CEO, and Larry Thornton, a Matheny trustee, visited Cesar’s recently and presented Guerra with a plaque that gratefully recognized him for his “dedication and commitment to our children and adults with special needs. The volunteer service you have performed has greatly enhanced their quality of life. Thank you for your support!”


Facilitating Student Interaction

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Lafargue uses large moving visuals to help student Katherine Gaudio understand the lessons in a life skills class.

To complete her coursework in 2004 for a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, Stacy Lafargue did an internship at Camp Merry Heart. The camp, also in Hackettstown, is run by Easter Seals New Jersey to provide a wide variety of recreation and activities to people of all ages and all types of disabilities and special needs.

The experience was an eye-opener. “I loved it,” Lafargue says, “and decided I wanted to work with special needs students.” She began as a teaching assistant at Matheny in the spring of 2005, took an alternate route to an education degree at New Jersey City University in 2008, and became certified as a teacher of students with disabilities at Centenary in 2010. The Washington, NJ, resident is currently leader of the elementary team at The Matheny School, and this past year was nominated as “Educator of the Year” by her colleagues.

The best parts of her job, Lafargue says, “are the interactions with students. It may take a lot of time and effort to help a student express his thoughts or ideas, but every student has a voice that deserves to be heard. It’s unbelievably rewarding to witness the pride of non-verbal students when they answer questions, write a story, or share ideas with peers.”

Teaching, she believes, “is not just about getting the final result, but about the process it takes to get there. Whether it’s choosing which color marker they want to use on their worksheet, picking their favorite snack, or answering questions on an assessment, I facilitate the students’ interaction with the world and try to make it just a little easier for them to exist in it each day.” Lafargue recalls one time when the class was preparing for a camping trip. “How do you explain camping to someone who’s never been camping?” she asks. “One of the teaching assistants took out a paper plate, folded it, and demonstrated what a tent was.” That’s an example, she says, of how the elementary team “is open to anyone who has an idea.”

Community Plunge

Each semester, Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, conducts a day-long community service project for all incoming students. It’s called Community Plunge and offers students an opportunity to volunteer and learn the value of community service.

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Stewart Lester of Middlesex, NJ, and Kayla Gonzalez of Secaucus, NJ, visit with Matheny student Shane Szott.

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Vincent Picarelli of Roselle Park, NJ, helps Matheny student Jamil Jones compete in a ‘musical wheelchairs’ game.

On August 31, several Centenary students visited Matheny and participated in recreation activities that included wheelchair relay races, swimming, and a variety of competitive games and contests. Matheny’s Recreation Therapy program provides  students and patients with recreation opportunities and resources that improve their physical, emotional, cognitive, and social well-being.

Arts Access in the Park

Matheny’s Arts Access Program will exhibit at Peapack-Gladstone’s Art in the Park event on Sunday, September 20, in Liberty Park. Mugs, scarves, neckties, and books featuring artwork and writings of Arts Access artists will be available for sale.

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A painting by Arts Access artist Kevin White is highlighted on this scarf.

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This mug features the artwork of Arts Access artist Mike Martin.

Art in the Park began in 2000 as a showcase for arts and crafts from local artists and provides an opportunity for attendees to meet and talk with individual artists. Arts Access is a unique fine arts program enabling artists with disabilities to fully express themselves in the creative arts.