The adult residents at the Matheny Medical and Educational Center in Peapack, NJ wanted to find a pre-vocational activity where they could do one of the things that means the most to them; give back to the community that gives to them.  As a specialized hospital for children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities, it’s not always the easiest to find ways for the adults to feel like productive members of society.  Deanna Willard, Life Skills Coordinator, and Nicole Araujo, Peapack Program Coordinator, met to discuss different options on how they can make that happen.  

Ms. Willard wanted to work on activity bags, where tasks can be broken down so that each part of the assignment helps to accomplish the end result.  With the knowledge that police officers kept teddy bears in their cars for children in an emergent situation, Ms. Araujo and Ms. Willard came up with Brave Bags.  Ms. Willard presented the idea to the residents and they loved it.  The name Brave Bags came from the fact that the child in that emergent situation can be scared but ultimately needs to be brave and strong.  Ms. Willard spoke with the residents and they came up with the idea to put crayons, a coloring book, bubbles, bouncy ball, and small game/toy in the bag.  The bag would be a small drawstring back pack that can easily be kept in the trunk of a police car and would be geared for ages 2-10.  The bags are colored and designed by the residents themselves with either hand over hand assistance from staff or independently on their own.  The bags are designed with sports teams, flowers, many colors and pieces of the residents’ artistic side.  From there, Ms. Araujo began reaching out to local police departments to see if they would be interested in partnering with the adults on this great venture.  We started off with Peapack since that is our hometown and they were so thrilled to be working with us on this project.  

The residents have been involved with every aspect of this along the way.  From packaging the crayons in baggies to the presentation of the project with police departments, the residents have had a huge part in everything.  During the presentation, they are able to access either switch access communication devices to explain their part of the presentation, or show how the bags are filled, the residents have had ownership in this great project.  

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Currently, we are partnering with Peapack, Bridgewater, Middlesex, Chester, Randolph, Flemington, Long Valley, Mountainside, Bound Brook, Mount Olive, Somerville, Green Brook, North Plainfield, Warren, Morris Plains, Raritan, Parsippany, Piscataway and Hillsborough police departmentsand are continuing to expand.  Most departments have their Brave Bags already and some are still waiting for their bags to be completed and delivered.  After coming and seeing the presentation, the police departments understand how much time and effort is put into making these bags and are proud to be giving out a piece of Matheny.  Just as the bag tag says, Fromyour friends at Matheny, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh).


Ofc. Thomas Clarke
Lt. Eric Yaccarino
Deanna Willard
Chief William Keane
Nicole Araujo
Sgt. Kevin Gallagher
Front Row:
Jason Weiner
Andy Lash