Jean Wadsworth, a resident of Basking Ridge, recently accepted a "Spirit of Somerset" award on behalf of The Friends of Matheny, a volunteer organization that has raised more than $3 million for the Matheny Medical and Educational Center (www.matheny.org) in Peapack over the past 29 years. Wadsworth is a past president of The Friends and currently serves as recording secretary.
Spirit of Somerset Awards were presented to both The Friends and to Matheny at a special ceremony held on June 13 at The Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. The awards were also presented to 16 other organizations or individuals including The Bernards Inn and the late assemblyman Peter J. Biondi.
In presenting the awards to Matheny, the Rev. John Graf, co-chair of the awards, said, "Matheny needs to grow in order to take care of those families who need them." Steve Proctor, Matheny president, talked about Matheny's origins and how the original school was founded by Walter and Marguerite Matheny, whose son Chuck had cerebral palsy. He described how Matheny has evolved into a special hospital for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities and how difficult it is for parents to decide that their child would be better off living at the hospital, rather than at home.
Wadsworth recalled how, "nearly 30 years ago, a small group of relative newcomers to the Somerset Hills organized a fundraising group know as The Friends of Matheny to support what was then the Matheny School. In the intervening years, The Friends has raised mover $3 million to support the work of what has become the Matheny Medical and Educational Center. However, The Friends has given more than gifts resulting from fundraising efforts. Its members have also supported the residents of Matheny with the gift of their time by doing things to enhance their daily lives.
"Walk through the hall during the holiday season," she continued, "and you will see door decorations made by and placed there by The Friends. Be there in early December when The Friends set up a Holiday Boutique where residents can purchase gifts for pennies and have them wrapped for their family members. Be there during spring break, and you will see 15-20 girls enjoying a 'day of beauty' with massages and manicures provided especially for them and followed by afternoon tea.
"Walk into a classroom and see the students working around one of three Smart Tables or working with a TouchSmart computer or using an iPad in their photography class, and know that these students, with funds from The Friends' allocations, have access to the latest technology to aid their understanding. See them using Boardmaker Software, which enables non-verbal students to express their thoughts and feelings through writing.
"Be there on the weekend, and you will see residents enjoying entertainment that has been funded by The Friends. Know that these residents can also go skiing or ice skating using adaptive equipment, again funded by The Friends. Know that the residents can also enjoy sitting in a garden area, which has recently been replanted by staff members with funding from The Friends.
"Be there at graduation and know that The Friends provide the refreshments for the celebration with their families and are providing a gift for each graduate, including a commemorative picture to hang on the walls in their rooms. Yes, each class also has a yearbook, funded by The Friends."
Wadsworth is but one of several dedicated volunteers from the community who belong to The Friends of Matheny, which was started by a group of women who had no family connections to the school. Today, parents of some of Matheny students and patients are part of The Friends as well. And high school students, both male and female, from Ridge and Bernards High, donate their time as Junior Friends of Matheny volunteers at a variety of Matheny events. And, the Second Chance Shop, a thrift shop run by The Friends in Gladstone, will raise more than $120,000 this year.
Anyone in the Somerset Hills or beyond who would like more information about The Friends of Matheny can call Gail Cunningham at 908-234-0011, ext. 282; or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.