Art appreciation

Jess Evans and Yasin Reddick.

For several years, artwork created by artists in Matheny’s Arts Access Program has been hanging throughout the Adult Day Center of the Visiting Nurse Association of Somerset Hills in Basking Ridge, NJ. “We are thrilled to have the Arts Access artwork here,” said Maria M. Keenan, VNA Adult Day Center manager. “Our patients may not be able to put in words what the artwork means to them, but you can see the enthusiasm in their eyes.”

On Wednesday, September 24, two Arts Access artists visited the VNA and spoke about their artwork and their life at Matheny to a group of VNA members who come regularly to the Day Center. Jess Evans pointed out that, in addition to painting, she dances, choreographs, writes drama, directs plays and acts. She told the Day Center members, “I would like to dance for you one day.”

Yasin Reddick said he writes stories, plays and is working on his autobiography. He paints and also creates computer-generated digital art. “I don’t let my disability stop me from doing anything,” he added. Evans interjected: “Anyone can paint, even you guys.”

Matheny’s Arts Access Program empowers individuals with disabilities to create art without boundaries. Through the use of innovative systems and techniques, participants can take part in the visual, performing and literary arts. Regardless of their disability, the artists are provided with the tools and materials needed to produce complete pieces of work.

The VNA of Somerset Hills has been providing compassionate, comprehensive and innovative home health and hospice care, adult day services and community wellness programs to individuals and families in Morris and Somerset County communities since 1904.

Attentive and appreciative VNA Adult Day Center members.


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Creepy creativity

Adult resident Rasheedah Mahali and her mother Geri Brewer at last year’s Halloween parade.

Halloween is a big day at Matheny. It begins in the morning with a haunted house, designed and built by members of Matheny’s therapy staffs, helped out by Matheny School faculty members and instructors in our Adult Services Department. This year, additional assistance will be provided by members of the Junior Friends of Matheny, who are students at Bernards High School in Bernardsville, NJ, and Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, NJ.

In the afternoon, Matheny students and patients take part in the annual Halloween parade. The costumes every year are amazing, thanks to the creativity of all Matheny staff members. The holiday also provides a great opportunity for visits by family members, many of whom are also in costume. After the parade, costume winners are announced and refreshments are provided by The Friends of Matheny.

The Halloween festivities are coordinated by Matheny’s Recreation Therapy Department, which provides a variety of recreation opportunities and resources throughout the year to improve students’ and patients’ physical, emotional, cognitive and social well-being. Members of the community are welcome to join us.

Friends of Matheny president Liz Geraghty serving up refreshments.

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Celebrating the arts

Arts Access artist Jess Evans dances with facilitator Corey Bliss at the opening reception.

Live performances of dance and drama were presented by Arts Access artists at the opening reception for “Reflections,” an exhibit of Arts Access visual art currently on display at the Grounds for Sculpture in the Trenton area. The reception was held on Saturday, September 20; the exhibit continues through November 2 in the Education Gallery.

Arts Access provides individuals with disabilities the freedom to create in the visual, literary and performing arts. In addition to the visual art on display, scarves, neckties and note cards with Arts Access designs are available for sale in the Sculpture Gift Shop.

The Grounds for Sculpture was founded in 1992 to promote an understanding of and appreciation for contemporary sculpture by maintaining a 42-acre sculpture park, organizing accessible exhibitions and interpreting these exhibitions through publications, lectures, workshops and other educational programs.

Ellen Kane, left, and Cheryl Chapin are among the Arts Access artists whose work is on display at the Grounds for Sculpture.

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‘The Time of Her Life’

Bella Walton and her mother, Betsy, with Matheny resident Tasha Santiago-O’Keefe.

When Bella Walton was three years old, she sometimes accompanied her mother, Betsy, when she volunteered at  Matheny. Those visits left a powerful impression on Bella and, by the time she was a seventh grader at the Far Hills, NJ, Country Day School, the Peapack, NJ, resident had become a regular weekly visitor to Matheny. She is now a senior at the Pingry Upper School in Basking Ridge, NJ, and she still comes every Monday to Matheny to spend some time with the students and patients.

“We talk or go outside if the weather’s nice,” Bella says. “It feels great to be able to brighten up someone’s day. Sometimes we’ll pretend we’re in a haunted house or at Disneyland.”

There have been many special memories during the years she has volunteered, but one particularly memorable moment occurred last month on one of her Monday night visits. Music therapist Megan Chappius was conducting a group sing-along in one of the Matheny dining rooms, and one Matheny resident requested “The Time of My Life” from the movie Dirty Dancing. As soon as Chappius started playing the song on the piano, everyone became very excited and started singing along very loudly and excitedly. “We were all singing and dancing,” Bella said. “It turned out to be a big performance.” The song is a Matheny favorite, according to Chappius, “so everyone usually gets amped up to sing it.”

Bella will be going off to college next fall, and she will miss coming to Matheny, but she plans to return for visits during her holiday breaks. She is one of a number of Matheny volunteers from high schools in the area. (Besides Pingry, the schools include Bernards, Ridge, Immaculata, West Morris Mendham, Morristown–Beard, Bridgewater–Raritan, Watchung Hills, Voorhees, Mount St. Mary Academy, Randolph, Delbarton and Marlboro Memorial.) The high school students usually visit with specific residents or serve as recreation assistants. Matheny students and patients like the same music, games, sports and movies as everyone else. For those who take the opportunity to discover each person’s individuality, the rewards are great. For more information about volunteering, contact the volunteer services office at (908) 234-0011, ext. 282.

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Hands-on technology

Centenary student Jessica Mistrey learns how to use switches to help a nonverbal student communicate.

Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, is known for its innovative approach to teaching special education methods—including the use of assistive technologies—to tomorrow’s teachers. Centenary, in fact, was one of the first colleges with education programs in New Jersey to provide a dual certification program for general education and special education students.

The Matheny School integrates technology into every program it has, and Sean Murphy, Matheny’s principal, is on the advisory board of Centenary’s Education Department. So, because of the close relationship between the two schools, Centenary education students often visit Matheny to learn about the latest developments in assistive technology and to get some hands-on experience.

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Smart cookies

Brian Dragotto of Millstone, NJ, is a student at The College of New Jersey and a participant in Ortho Clinical Diagnostics’ Co-op Program. As a volunteer at Matheny, he helped resident Natalie Tomastyk, right, with the cookie mix project. At center is adult instructor Rose Sherman.

Students in Matheny’s Adult Services program are hard at work, creating decorative cookie mixes that will be displayed in mason jars. The filled mason jars will be sold at an internal fundraising event to support Matheny’s self-sustaining community garden.

The Matheny adults were assisted in this project recently by a group of college students who are currently part of the Co-op Program at Raritan, NJ-based Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, a division of Johnson & Johnson. The students spend approximately six months at the company, gaining practical business experience. Ortho serves the transfusion medicine community and laboratories around world as a provider of solutions for screening, diagnosing, monitoring and confirming diseases early, before they put lives at risk.

The cookie mix project is an example of activities in Matheny’s Adult Services program designed to instill a sense of self-respect and self-expression among  adult residents and adult day health services patients.

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Ceramics in the park

From left, Dion Alston, Amy Dietrich and Cindy Shanks.

A collection of functional pottery and sculpture works made by Matheny students and patients was exhibited at Peapack-Gladstone’s annual Art in the Park event, held Sunday, September 14, in Peapack’s Liberty Park. Two of the Matheny ceramic artists, Dion Alston and Cindy Shanks, attended the event, along with their instructor, Jodi Miguel.

“We were very warmly received by our hosts, Deborah Ludtke, Jane Simon and Janice Dolan,” Miguel said, “and the participating artists, Dion and Cindy, really enjoyed meeting the attendees, all of whom were extremely friendly and supportive. The best part for me was bringing Dion and Cindy to meet the other potters from Bull’s Eye Pottery and Michele Hill Pottery. We were able to view and feel their work and talk about ceramic processes and glazes. It was a fun day for everyone!”

One of the visitors to the Matheny exhibit was Gladstone resident Amy Dietrich, who is a member of P-G’s Historic  Preservation Committee. “I am inspired by the art of the Matheny students,” she said, “and excited to see them as part of this year’s event.”

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Balancing act

Cindy and Hannah LaBar.

Cindy LaBar, Matheny’s director of physical therapy, is also the parent of a child with a disability. Her eight-year-old daughter Hannah was born with a rare chromosome anomaly. LaBar’s experience with Hannah has helped her understand “what families of our students and patients are faced with.”

In an article she wrote for the July/August 2014 issue of NDTA Network, the magazine of the Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association, LaBar outlined several key points for parents of children with disabilities to keep in mind:

• “Find balance between therapy goals and family time.”

• “Maintain open, ongoing communication with your child’s school team and within your family.”

• “Integrate physical and academic functional skills into your daily routines at home.”

• “Place importance on skills and have expectations for your child.”

• “Be creative and create a positive, peaceful environment for your child and family while having fun!”

LaBar acknowledged in the article that, during the first year of Hannah’s life, “I forgot one very important thing: I was her mom first, not her therapist. I struggled tremendously to find a balance. I have often thought how ironic it is that I specialize in helping children just like Hannah learn to move. I have wondered why it is that my work and personal worlds are so similar. I wonder why Hannah was chosen to be with our family. Of course, I cannot fully answer any of these questions, but I do feel confident that Hannah has included me in her journey so I can help other families find this balance that I have been searching for.”

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Volunteers welcome

Madison Junior students help celebrate Hat Day.

Although the calendar still says summer, there is a fall feel in the air. The Matheny School is back in session, and adult patients have begun class schedules.

Evening and weekend recreation activities are open to all registered volunteers who would like to help. In addition, a few volunteers are needed to assist with our computer lab on Monday and/or Wednesday evenings. Other volunteer activities include being a classroom aide or just a friendly visitor.

If you are not already registered as a Matheny volunteer, contact the volunteer services office at 908.234.0011, ext. 282, or email volunteers@matheny.org. Matheny’s volunteer services office strives to place helpers in positions that meet both their interests and availability.

We need your help, and we think you’ll find the experience rewarding and enjoyable.

A Pingry student assists in the classroom.

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End of summer celebration

Matheny resident Bryan Desatnick enjoys time in the pool with his father Lloyd and sister Sarah.

The annual Matheny Picnic is a day when students and patients can get together with family and friends to enjoy a stress-free day of visiting and recreation, along with a barbeque buffet prepared by Matheny’s culinary staff.

Fortunately, the weather on Sunday, September 7, cooperated, and not only was there no rain, but it was warm enough to keep the outdoor swimming pool open.

Michael Taurozzi, a Matheny student, is surrounded by family members, from left, grandmother Elaine Brunner, father John Taurozzi, grandfather Jack Brunner, stepmother Karen Muckenthaler and stepbrother Randall Muckenthaler.

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