Two leading researchers visit Matheny

From left, Alexander von Gontard, MD; Gary E. Eddey, MD, vice president and chief medical officer at Matheny; Leopold M.G. Curfs, PhD; Kenneth Robey, PhD, director of the Matheny Institute for Research in Developmental Disabilities.

The Matheny Institute for Research in Developmental Disabilities has as its singular mission research that might enhance the lives of those with severe disabilities, their families and the professionals who work with them. One of its important functions is disseminating research findings by sharing information with other professionals in the field.

Recently Matheny was honored to have two of the most distinguished researchers in the field of developmental and intellectual disabilities visit us: Leopold M. G. Curfs, PhD, professor of intellectual disabilities and director of the Governor Kremers Centre at the Maastricht University Medical Centre in Maastricht, the Netherlands; and Alexander von Gontard, MD, professor, board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, pediatrician, psychotherapist and chair and head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Saarland University Hospital, Saarbrücken, Germany. Professors Curfs and von Gontard spent a full day at Matheny, meeting with staff, touring the facilities and observing our various programs and activities.

Dr. Curfs has published and presented extensively on medical, behavioral and psychiatric aspects of genetically determined neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. von Gontard is an internationally acclaimed expert on behavioral disorders in childhood incontinence.

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Community get-together

Far Hills Country Day School students learned about adapted bowling during a recent visit by Matheny students and staff.

Have you ever raced in a power wheelchair? Communicated without talking? Painted without using your hands? Played basketball sitting down?

Matheny is inviting members of the Peapack-Gladstone community to find out how physical, occupational, speech, music, recreation therapy and art help improve the quality of life for its students and patients. The informal introduction to Matheny’s Therapy and Arts Access programs will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday, November 2, in the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center at Matheny, 65 Highland Ave. in Peapack. This event will include fun-filled, hands-on activities that are very kid-friendly, so community members are encouraged to bring the entire family.

Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by calling (908) 234-0011, ext. 282, or emailing

A Matheny student demonstrates adapted hockey to a student at the Old Farmers Road School in Long Valley, NJ. At left is Cindy LaBar, Matheny director of physical therapy.

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Arts Access ‘Inside the Beltway’

“TV” by James Lane.

Two artists in Matheny’s Arts Access Program have had visual art accepted for a juried exhibit currently on display at Art Enables’ annual “Outsider Art Inside the Beltway” event in Washington, DC. The pieces, selected from more than 250 submissions, are “TV” by James Lane and “Tide Crayon Blast” by Yasin Reddick. The exhibit opened October 11 and runs through November 11. This is the second year work by an Arts Access artist has been accepted.

Art Enables operates a studio and gallery in the nation’s capital for emerging artists with developmental disabilities, providing them the resources and support they need to become visual artists. Their artwork is exhibited and sold at the studio, at host venues and on the organization’s website,

Arts Access provides individuals with disabilities the freedom to create in the visual, literary and performing arts.

“Tide Crayon Blast” by Yasin Reddick.

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Bonding with patients

Weyatta Golafaly with adult patient Amy Lambert.

Weyatta Golafaly came to the United States in 2006 through the USA Green Card’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, also known as the “green-card lottery.” She was living with her in-laws in East Orange, NJ, when she heard about Matheny from a fellow countrywoman, Jebbeh Gunone, who was already employed at Matheny.

In April 2006, Golafaly began working as a personal care assistant (PCA) in Matheny’s red zone, home to adult residents. Matheny’s students and patients need a great deal of assistance in many areas, including eating, transferring, bathing, dressing, oral hygiene and toileting. This help is provided by PCAs.

“I had never seen people with cerebral palsy before,” Golfaly recalls.  But she quickly adapted. She enjoys interacting with Matheny’s students and patients. “My days at Matheny are awesome,” she says. “It’s like family here. You really bond with the patients.”

Golafaly was selected to participate in a series of management courses at Rutgers School of Continuing Education. Those courses, she says, taught her her about team building. “In team building,” she explains, “every job is counted and respected because every department is highly needed in a company.”  In addition, Golafaly has  received special training as a mentor to new PCAs through a comprehensive program that was introduced in 2013; and she has been named one of two lead PCAs on the red zone. According to Kathleen D’Urso, red zone unit nurse manager, Golafaly, “has been a great asset to the red zone and has performed at an exemplary level. She is a professional, well-respected member of the team.”

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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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