SOMERSET HILLS NJ - When adult residents at the Matheny School and Hospital in Peapack, NJ wanted to give back to the community that gives so much to them, they met with Nicole Araujo and Deanna Willard of their Adult Services Program to brainstorm ideas.

“As a specialized hospital for children and adults with severe developmental and physical disabilities, it’s often hard to find ways for our residents to contribute and make a difference,” says Ms. Araujo, Program Coordinator of Adult Day Services at Matheny, “but they very much want to do so.”

With the knowledge that police officers kept teddy bears in their cars to comfort children during an emergency, Ms. Araujo and Ms. Willard, the program’s Life Skills Coordinator, brought this information to Matheny’s adult residents. The residents immediately warmed to the idea of reaching out to children in these situations by making something that would not only comfort them, but help them feel safer as they navigated a challenging time, and let them know their community cares.

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“The residents understood that any child who found themselves in an emergency would be scared, but the most important skills to get them through it would be bravery and strength,” says Deanna, “and that’s how we came up with the name “Brave Bags”.

The residents themselves decided what would be included in the small, drawstring bags, which are designed and lovingly colored by them with sports team logos, super heroes, flowers, and other images designed to bring comfort and strength to a child in a stressful situation. The bags, geared for ages two through ten, include crayons, a coloring book, bubbles, a bouncy ball, and a small game or toy and are designed to be easily kept in the trunk of a police car.

Ms. Araujo first reached out to the local Peapack Gladstone Police Department and they agreed to partner with Matheny on the Brave Bag Project immediately. 

For their part, the residents have truly taken ownership of this project. Ms. Willard has taken great care to break down the process of creating a Brave Bag so that all residents involved can contribute to this worthwhile project. From the personalized decoration to carefully placing the contents inside each bag, even the most impaired residents can participate and make a difference in their community.

A small ceremony was held to present the Brave Bags to the Peapack Gladstone Police Department and residents took enormous pride in explaining how the bags are created and their individual parts in the process. The officers immediately understood how much time, effort, and sincerity is put into making these bags and expressed how proud they were to be giving out a piece of Matheny to children in need throughout New Jersey.

The Brave Bag project continues to expand. In addition to Peapack, Bridgewater, Middlesex, Chester, Mount Olive, Somerville, and Hillsborough police departments have all agreed to partner with Matheny and the list continues to grow. 

Meanwhile, the project not only keeps residents engaged but more connected to their community than before. As the bag tag says, “From your friends at Matheny, ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’  (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh)”. Matheny residents know this, and they want children facing difficult situations to know it, too.

About Matheny

Matheny’s mission is to provide exceptional care and an optimal quality of life for children and adults with special needs and medically complex developmental disabilities. Matheny is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization and is headquartered in Somerset County.  It was founded in 1946 after Walter and Marguerite Matheny’s son, Chuck, was born with cerebral palsy (CP) into a world ill-equipped to care for children with special needs. Matheny patients have a diverse range of medical conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Lesch-Nyhan Disease (LND) and a wide range of rare diseases including Rett syndrome, Angelman syndrome, Cornelia De Lange syndrome, Wolf-Hirshorn syndrome and 4Q Deletion syndrome. To learn more about Matheny, visit us at or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram: @mathenymedical.