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Friends of Matheny to Celebrate 25 Years

Jean Wadsworth, left, of Basking Ridge
and Karen Thompson of Gladstone stand in
front of “Iris” a painting given to The
Friends by Matheny patient, James Lane.
Lane is one of the artists in Matheny’s Arts
Access Program, which makes it possible
for people with disabilities to create fine art,
assisted by professional artist-facilitators.

Karen Thompson remembers when the Friends of Matheny raised money to help the Matheny School and Hospital (now the Matheny Medical and Educational Center) pay its bills.  It was in the late 1980s, and, says the Gladstone resident, “We just gave Matheny a check at the end of each year.  We didn’t designate how it was to be used.  We left it to the discretion of the people at Matheny.  It’s incredible the changes that have taken place and how this place has grown.”

The Friends of Matheny, an auxiliary group that raises money for Matheny, was founded in 1983 with the objective of hosting an annual fundraising cocktail party.  The organization will celebrate its 25th anniversary April 5 with an Iris Ball to be held at the Bridgewater Marriott.

Thompson had moved to the Somerset Hills in 1986 and was contacted by a neighbor, Judy Burgess, who was president of the Friends.  “She called and said they needed volunteers to work at the thrift shop, which at that time was located in a classroom at St. Brigid’s Church in Peapack (The Second Chance Shop is now located in the basement of the United Methodist Church in Gladstone). At that time, we had maybe 15 volunteers, and we were thrilled if we made $50 a day (In the 2006-2007 selling season, the shop, co-managed by Pat Albertini of Mendham and Linda Horton of Peapack, raised more than $100,000).”

Jean Wadsworth, a resident of Basking Ridge, was invited to join the Friends of Matheny in 1985 by the thrift shop’s founder, Ginny Estabrook.  She remembers “a small afternoon gathering in a member’s home; it was really nice.”  Thompson and Wadsworth were hooked.  They both served as presidents of The Friends – Wadsworth from 1994-96 and Thompson from 1998-2000 – and both continue to serve on the Board. 

As Matheny’s financial condition stabilized, Thompson recalls that Robert Schonhorn, who became president in 1989, “didn’t like the idea of just giving a check.  He suggested that we start to investigate the specific needs at Matheny, and we developed a wish list.”  Every year, the various program directors at Matheny submit their respective wish lists, and an allocations committee of the Friends selects how to spend the money the organization has raised.  “From starting out to help pay bills, we were able to make possible things that weren’t in the budget but that were certainly needed,” says Thompson.  “We consider all of the requests and determine which departments’ wishes are going to be granted that year.”  From its beginning, the Friends have raised more than $1.7 million for Matheny, funding such things as therapeutic and recreation equipment, wheelchair-accessible vans and computers.  In 1992, the Friends gave the first part of a $150,000 pledge to rebuild the trustees’ board room and have also funded a renovation of Matheny’s main lobby and the lobby in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center.

Another long-time Friends board member, Nancy Hojnacki of Bernardsville, became involved in the late ‘80s after moving to the area from Long Island.  “I had been involved in all kinds of fundraising on Long Island,” she says, “and when Judy Burgess asked me to get involved with The Friends, I said no.  She kept asking, and I finally went to our first gala, a cocktail party, and I noticed they were giving things away instead of having an auction.  I’ve been on that committee ever since.”

All three women agree that two things have kept them active in the organization all these years – the cause, helping the patients at Matheny; and the friendship (no pun intended) among the members.  “The greatest thing,” says Hojnacki, “is the camaraderie we have when we do a big fundraiser – doing the table arrangements in people’s basements and realizing what a wonderful facility we’re raising money for.”  Adds, Wadsworth:  “All three of us said the same thing:  We enjoy working together.  But what is also important is that Matheny appreciates us.”

Thompson includes two other aspects of being a Friend that she considers significant.  “I can say without hesitation,” she points out, “that I’ve grown as a person enormously through the work I’ve done at Matheny.  I’ve been given challenges that I never thought I could accomplish.  I’ve met wonderful people – volunteers, staff and patients.  It’s broadened my life tremendously.  I’ve taken away much more from this experience than I’ve given.”

And, she adds, “The Friends are truly Matheny’s ambassadors in the community.  We’re the people who are out there and very often are asked, ‘What is Matheny?  What happens there?’  And we’re able to tell them.”

For more information on the Iris Ball, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 282.

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