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 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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Investment in education

Table of school supplies collected by Matheny students.

Students at the Matheny School face special challenges, but that doesn’t stop them from finding the satisfaction that comes from helping others.

The Roosevelt Elementary School in New Brunswick, NJ, is located in a low-income area, with many of its students living below the poverty line. It is a port-of-entry school for new immigrants, and the school’s Youth Services System provides after-school recreation, tutoring and homework assistance.

With that in mind, Matheny School students mounted a campaign to collect school supplies from Matheny employees that would, in turn, be donated to Roosevelt’s YSS program. The drive was an unqualified success! Doing some math, with the help of manipulatives (objects such as blocks that are used to help students learn math concepts) and calculators, Matheny students determined that the supplies collected included 52 packs of pencils, 75 glue sticks, 176 markers and 65 notebooks.

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Summer buddies

Long Valley Middle School students, from left, Zach Miller, Matt Blount and Mark Boiko visit with Matheny student Jamil Jones.

“This has been really fun!” That’s how one student from Long Valley Middle School described his weekly visits to Matheny this summer. About 14 LVMS students have been coming to Matheny once a week since July in an initiative started by Marie Peppas, a member of St. Luke’s Parish, where all the boys in the group belong and have been life-long friends.

The group helped out at Matheny’s swimming pool and with classroom activities, and they even did some weeding on the grounds. Most importantly, the students struck up friendships with some of Matheny’s students and patients. They plan to continue their Matheny visits after school starts, but will probably reduce their frequency to monthly.

Volunteers from the community are needed at Matheny during weekdays, evenings and 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

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Taking the ‘Plunge’

From left, Centenary students Rachel Edwards of Phillipsburg, NJ, Nicolle Siebens of Frelinghuysen, NJ, and Joseph Jiles of Camden sing a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Every semester, Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, conducts a day-long community service project for all incoming students. It’s called Community Plunge, and it offers students the opportunity to explore communities around the college by volunteering for one day.

Matheny is always on the Centenary list, and this year a group of incoming freshmen participated with Matheny students in an adapted baseball game. Most Matheny students are in wheelchairs, so the Centenary students wheeled them down the base paths and helped them bat and field as well.

Some of the Centenary students, such as Amber Spere of South River, NJ, are special education majors. “I enjoy being in this environment,” Spere said. “I always wanted to be a teacher, and when I started to interact with the special education students in my high school, I decided to major in special education. I find it so rewarding.”

Amber Spere of South River, left, with Matheny teacher Darlene Tammara and student Kimberly Alarcon.

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Arts Access at the Grounds for Sculpture

Untitled digital sculpture by Natalia Manning.

Matheny’s Arts Access Program will have a visual art exhibit, “Reflections,” on display at the Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton from September 21 through November 2. A special reception at 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 20, will feature live performances of drama and dance created by Arts Access artists and readings of works written by Arts Access participants. The visual art will be exhibited in the Educational Gallery.

In addition to the exhibit, the Grounds for Sculpture is currently offering scarves, neckties and note cards with Arts Access designs in its Sculpture Gift Shop. Arts Access provides individuals with disabilities the freedom to create in the visual, literary and performing arts.

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.

Necktie based on a design by T.J. Christian.

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Ceramics in the park

Some of the ceramics pieces to be exhibited at Art in the Park.

Handmade glazed ceramic pieces made by students in Matheny’s adult services program will be on display and be offered for sale at Peapack-Gladstone’s Art in the Park event, being held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 14, in Liberty Park on Main Street.

Some of the ceramic pieces, according to Matheny adult services instructor Jodi Miguel, were made by the adult students individually and others were made collaboratively. “They range from functional pottery works to abstract clay forms,” she says. The biggest collection being sold at Art in the Park, however, will be jewelry—clay pendants and strung beads.

Matheny’s adult education programs are designed to instill a sense of self-respect and provide an opportunity for self-expression for adult residents and adult day health services patients, and the ceramics program teaches them the fundamentals of working in clay, incorporating the elements of design and principles of art.

Art in the Park began in 2000. Sponsored by the P-G Recreation Commission, it is a showcase for a variety of fine art and crafts as well as an introduction to talented student artists. Besides the art, the event includes musical entertainment and refreshments.

Ceramics jewelry, the biggest category to be shown at Art in the Park.

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‘Rewarding experience’

Nikki with Matheny student Aidan McNamara and teacher Karen Deland.

Twice a month, Nikki, a seven-year-old standard poodle from Bridgewater, NJ, comes to Matheny along with her owner, Dorothy Dameo. Nikki is a pet therapy dog, trained to visit venues such as hospitals, nursing homes and senior care facilities. She has been visiting Matheny for five years, and Dameo says the visits are a very rewarding experience because “you can see the children responding positively to her.”

Pet therapy is beneficial to both the physical and mental health of Matheny’s students and patients. The visiting dogs lift their spirits, provide comfort and encourage socialization. Pet therapy is also therapeutic because, says Dameo, “the children use some motor skills they wouldn’t normally use.”

Nikki was certified as a pet therapy dog by St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, NJ. She is one of about half a dozen pet therapy dogs who visit Matheny’s students and patients regularly.

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Connecting with patients

Cathy Church with Matheny president Steve Proctor, left, and Gary E. Eddey, MD, vice president and chief medical officer.

Cathy Church’s arrival at Matheny 22 years ago was spontaneous—“really by accident,” she said. However, the fact that she stayed for more than two decades before deciding to retire this September was no accident. “Once I actually got to Matheny,” she recalled, “I found it was such a comfortable environment. It’s an uplifting place. The connection you have with the patients here—you feel it every day, no matter what discipline you’re working in. Everybody gets that connection.”

In 1993, Church and her husband were living in Staten Island, NY., where she was working full-time in a long-term care facility. However, they had a summer residence in Cranberry Lake in Byram Township, NJ.  “I had seen an article about Matheny in the newspaper, and Peapack was exactly halfway between my two homes, so I just visited one day. I was hired as a primary nurse and decided to make the switch.”

Seven months later, Church was asked to take over the management of the personal care assistant (PCA) staff. Matheny’s patients need assistance in many areas such as eating, transferring, bathing, dressing, oral hygiene and toileting. PCAs play a unique role in providing the most basic care for the patients. “I loved working with the direct care staff,” Church said. “They’re the unsung heroes. They make everything else happen for the patients; they are involved in every aspect of the patients’ care.”

Once Church realized she was going to stay at Matheny, she and her husband moved to nearby Basking Ridge and then settled permanently in Cranberry Lake in 2002. She became chief nursing officer in 2006 and, under her leadership, the PCA department became a more integral part of the nursing department. “When I came in,” she recalled, “the PCA department operated as its own entity. It had its own organizational structure, its own supervisors. It wasn’t as connected with nursing as it should have been. We had to make changes to make it more unit-based. The nursing supervisors now manage the PCA schedules and all the logistics.”

Nursing at Matheny is different from acute care hospitals, Church said, “because you’re handling everything about patients’ wellness from beginning to end. They’re not coming in for an acute problem, getting that fixed and being discharged. You’re dealing with all of the associated conditions they have, to keep them well. You’re not going to cure them, but you want to keep them well so that they can be involved in everything Matheny has to offer to the extent it’s possible. You’re really looking at them in a very holistic way.”

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