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Matheny's Raven Bennett
Receives Special Honor

Clockwise, from left: social worker Valerie
Marcketta, personal care assistant supervisor
Sharon Davis, occupational therapist Veronica
Armellino, Reifsnyder, Calabro , physical therapy
aide Brittani Jones and Raven.

Carole Reifsnyder, RN, HNB-BC, first met Raven Bennett two years ago when the Matheny student was a patient in the pediatric unit at Morristown Memorial Hospital.  Reifsnyder, a holistic nurse in the integrative medicine department, offered Bennett a hand and foot massage and reflexology treatment, recalling that "she seemed a bit skeptical about it, but she agreed to try a session." From that meeting, a true friendship developed.  "At first she would just write in her notebook to communicate to me," Reifsnyder says, "but eventually she spoke and I listened carefully.  Then we began to have real conversations.  She shared her feelings about missing her mother who had passed away and about how hard it was to be in the hospital.  She would show me the poetry she had written, and I was amazed at her talent."  Reifsnyder introduced Bennett to Megan Calabro, the music therapist on the floor, who worked with  her to put music to the words of the poetry. Then, Reifsnyder recorded Megan singing one of Raven’s songs and recorded it onto a CD.

But Reifsnyder and Calabro weren’t the only MMH staff members captivated by Bennett.  "She engaged everyone on the unit," Reifsnyder says.  "Many nurses, techs, doctors and child life therapists became close to her and spent time with her whenever they could. My daughter, Lauren, who is a nursing student, was working at the hospital that summer as a nursing tech, and she and Raven became friends as well.  Raven captured the heart of everyone she met through her courage, bravery and positive outlook, despite her life and health challenges." Eventually, Bennett was discharged from the hospital and returned to Matheny.  Reifsnyder kept in touch with her and was her walking partner in the Lu Huggins Wheelchair Walk in 2010 at Miles for Matheny, the fundraiser and community event held every April. 

Raven, with her aunt, Barbara Herbert, left, and
cousin Asia Herbert.

On April 30, the 17-year-old Bennett, thanks to Reifsnyder, was honored by Advancing Opportunities/Cerebral Palsy of NJ, a Mercer County-based agency serving people with disabilities.  At the organization’s spring gala, held at Greenacres Country Club in Lawrenceville, NJ, she received the Andrew J. Murphy Award, given in honor of a young man who never let his physical limitations prevent him from being with and doing what able-bodied people were doing.  Reifsnyder, who had attended the organization’s gala for several years, sent a letter to board member Jim Spano with a collection of Bennett’s poetry and the CD, asking him to nominate her for the award.  "Jim came to visit Raven and was impressed with her story and her talents; he nominated her for the award, and she was selected to receive it."  Bennett celebrated the evening with her aunt and cousin, who live in Newark, and with several staff members from Matheny.  The popularity she had enjoyed in the hospital manifested itself at the event as she spun around the dance floor with a variety of partners.  As the evening’s program stated:  "Raven has cerebral palsy and has some limitations with communication, but she is blessed with a brilliant smile; and it’s never hard to know when she’s happy."

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