Leadership & Clinical Team

Executive and Administrative Staff

Joe Hess

Joseph J. Hess, Jr.

President

Matthew J. Hess

Chief Executive Officer

Tara Short

Tara Short

Chief Financial Officer

James Santana

James Santana

Sr. Vice President – Operations

Shannon Vitelli

Shannon Vitelli

Vice President of Strategic Development

Michael Mcfarland

Michael McFarland

Vice President of Administration

Danielle Lawrence

Danielle Lawrence

Compliance Officer

Kathy Gorski

Kathleen McCarthy Gorski, MEd

Principal, First Children School

Ellen D’Amato, PhD

Ellen D’Amato, PhD

School Psychologist and Clinical Administrator, First Children School

Susan Goldman

Susan Goldman, MEd

Director, Community Educational Services

Pam Radel

Pamela Radel

Director of Administration

Paulina Luu-Checo

Paulina Luu-Checo

Director of Operations

Stephanie Colon

Stephanie Colon

Director of Revenue Cycle Management

Clinical Leadership

Caitlin Summers Motta

Caitlin Summers, LPC

Director of Mental Health Services

Stephanie Sigler, M.S., BCBA, LBS-PA

Stephanie Sigler, M.S., BCBA, LBS-PA

Director of Training, PA

Judith Cardenosa, BS, BCaBA

Judith Cardenosa, BS, BCaBA

Director of Training, NJ

Georgia Efthimiou

Georgia Efthimiou, BCBA

Northern NJ Regional Director

Brandon Sierchio

Brandon Sierchio, BCBA, MA

Southern NJ Regional Director

Kristen Daneker

Kristen Daneker, MS, BCBA, LBS

Pennsylvania Regional Director

Nicole Bollenbach

Nicole Bollenbach, MA BCBA

Assistant Director, Northern NJ

Devon Garfio

Devon Garifo, M.Ed., BCBA, LBS-PA

Assistant Director, Pennsylvania

Stephanie Gardner

Stephanie Gardner, MS, BCBA

Assistant Director,
Southern NJ STRIVE Center

Mana Ebrahimi

Mana Ebrahimi, MA, BCBA

Assistant Director,
Northern NJ STRIVE Center

Lynn Roba

Lynn Roba, M.Ed, BCBA, LBS

Assistant Director, Montgomeryville PA
STRIVE Center

Jenessa Creal

Jenessa Creal, M.S. Ed., BCBA, LBS-PA

Assistant Director, Pottstown PA STRIVE Center

Joe Hess, Jr. is president and co-founder of First Children Services. Joe has spent over thirty years managing for-profit and not-for-profit provider organizations. Prior to starting Mountain Eagle Group in 2004, Joe was CFO, COO, and then President of a national behavioral health provider serving children and adults with a wide range of severe disabilities. In the 1980s, Joe was CFO at Holy Redeemer Health System and oversaw all of their home care and related ancillary services. Joe taught accounting in the MBA Program at LaSalle University and prior to that, taught at Temple University and Holy Family College.

Joe has been instrumental in developing a number of innovative changes in programs and operations over his years in the field, ranging from helping to create a one-of-a-kind neurobehavioral unit for children in severe behavioral crisis to using tax-favored financial instruments to fund the development of new facilities for provider organizations. As a consultant, Joe’s clients have ranged from large public organizations like the Virginia Department of Rehabilitation to smaller, community-based non-profits providing vital services to people with special needs.

In 2009, Joe acquired a school for children with complex medical, intellectual, and behavioral conditions in Fanwood, N.J. and named it First Children. In 2011 with his son, Matthew Hess, he founded First Children Learning Services to provide a wide range of services to children in their own homes and schools. In 2013 Joe acquired Regional Enrichment and Learning Centers and made that a part of the First Children Family of Services.

Over his career, Joe has been active in a number of provider and professional organizations, has published in professional journals, and has made numerous presentations to professional groups.

Matthew is the chief executive officer of First Children Services, responsible for operations, business development, financial management and human resources for the organization.  Before transitioning to his current role in 2017, Matt had been the chief operating officer and vice president of operations since the company’s inception in 2009.  Under his leadership, First Children has grown from a single educational program serving 65 children to become a diversified behavioral health and special education organization serving over 1000 children through 17 counties of New Jersey.  Matt is a strong advocate of quality assurance and quality improvement throughout the company, ensuring a continued focus on driving positive outcomes for children, families and the payer community.

Before joining First Children, Matt had various entrepreneurial pursuits in the entertainment and manufacturing industries.  He advises several technology, educational, and healthcare startups in the tri-state area.  Matt studied Economics at Temple University and holds a Pennsylvania Real Estate license since 2009.

Tara Short is the Chief Financial Officer for First Children Services. At the forefront of financial leadership, Tara is an operationally driven CFO and will be responsible for leading all financial functions of the organization, while supporting the achievement of financial goals and objectives. As an analytical leader, Tara loves to create relationships to drive business growth through financial discipline, creativity, and teamwork. Prior to joining the First Children team, Tara served as the Chief Financial Officer for the Montgomery County Housing Authority in Pennsylvania.

Tara received her Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Post University as well as a Master of Science in Accountancy from Boise State University.

James is the Senior Vice President of Operations for First Children Services. In this capacity, James will be overseeing all operational functions of the company, along with growth and strategic planning. Prior to joining the company, James served as the SVP of the largest non-medical home health company in New Jersey. Through his career he has worked as a behavioral health tech, certified nurse’s assistant, and home health aide. As his career progressed James became a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, Multi-Level Administrator, Executive Director, and Regional Vice President for Senior Living Communities.

James finds passion in helping those in need and supporting the team to provide high quality care that also focuses on operational efficiencies. Throughout his career, his operational focuses have allowed team members to spend more time doing what they love, connecting with the people that they serve.

James received his Bachelors in Developmental Psychology, with a double minor in Business Administration and Economics from the University of Maine, and his Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration from Southern New Hampshire University.

Shannon Vitelli, VP of Strategic Development is responsible for collaboration with all areas of the organization to increase the efficacy of company strategies and implement new strategies to meet company goals. She brings over 20 years of clinical and operational experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis to First Children Services. As a BCBA, she has a passion for ensuring that individuals with autism and their families are receiving exceptional personal care.

Over the past decade, Shannon has turned this passion to help children and their families into a successful company that has helped thousands of children across southeastern Pennsylvania. Prior to joining First Children, Shannon was the founder and CEO of Exceptional Learning LLC. In January 2021, Shannon partnered with First Children Services bringing Exceptional Learning to the FCS family. She continues to utilize a proven track record of developing organization wide systems, improving clinical quality and maximizing profitability for a growing organization.

Shannon received her Bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s University and Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis on Applied Behavior Analysis from Temple University.

Michael McFarland, VP of administration is responsible for the overall strategic planning, partnerships, and management of the human resources function. He is a former practicing attorney and has over thirteen years of human resources experience serving as a strategic partner for both public and private clients. Michael is committed to changing the historical administrative perception of HR by challenging both internal and external stakeholders to form strategic partnerships that will facilitate achievement of organizational goals and objectives. Michael takes pride in building relationships and creating an atmosphere where all staff feel valued for the work that they perform. His motto is “Every Day is a Day in Paradise” which serves him well during even the most challenging circumstances.

Michael graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Trenton State College and received his Juris Doctor from Rutgers School of Law at Camden.

Danielle Lawrence serves as First Children Services’ Compliance Officer. Danielle has been with FCS since 2020. Before her promotion in 2022, she served as Care Coordinator for the Southern Region of New Jersey. Before joining the FCS team, Danielle resided in Southern California where she worked as the Director of  After-School Sports and Leadership at multiple Irvine/Tustin School Districts. 

Danielle received her Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration from Wilmington University. 

Kathleen began her career in education teaching for 17 years with Bayonne Public Schools.  She then went on to become an administrator with Millburn-Short Hills Public Schools, serving as Vice Principal of the middle school in the district.  She later moved on to Cranford Public Schools where she served as a Principal for 8 years before joining First Children in 2010. Kathleen is a certified school superintendent, principal, supervisor, teacher of the handicapped and elementary school teacher. She holds a Master’s degree in Teaching from Marygrove College and a Master’s in Educational Administration from Kean University. Some of her accomplishments/awards are state model of the Olweus Bully Prevention program, assistant director of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development-northeast region, Principal of the Year-Cranford Public Schools 2003/2004 and NCASES board member and commissioner. As a certified mediator Kathleen has been appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to be a fee arbitrator for attorney conflicts.  Kathleen is a passionate educator and visionary of academic excellence for all children.

Ellen has devoted her entire career to the delivery of services to students with developmental disabilities. As a special education teacher, learning disabilities teacher-consultant (LDTC), and currently as a school psychologist, she has developed and implemented intervention programs for students ranging in age from infancy through high school. Her area of expertise is the education of students who have significant cognitive, communication, physical, and medical challenges. She is experienced in the identification and provision of individualized supports to students who have multiple disabilities.

Ellen earned her Ph.D. in educational psychology from Fordham University where her research focused on the needs of families of students with disabilities. She is the co-author of Tips for Teaching Infants and Toddlers– a resource for parents and early intervention teachers/therapists.
 
As the school psychologist at First Children School, Ellen coordinates a multi-disciplinary team of speech, physical, occupational, and behavioral therapists, serves as liaison to local child study teams, and provides educational and therapeutic support to the students, staff, and families of First Children School. She is a member of the Council for Exceptional Children (Division of Early Childhood) and the American Psychological Society- Division 33 (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) and Division 16 (School Psychology).

Susan Goldman is the director of community educational services supervising and recruiting for First Children’s school staffing and home instruction services. Susan received a Bachelor of Arts in education and history at Monmouth University. Susan has served as a middle school teacher of mathematics. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Susan wore many hats as a mentor, staff developer, teacher leader, peer coach, student council, and peer to peer adviser.

Susan earned her Master of Arts in educational leadership from Kean University and subsequently held positions in supervision and math coaching/consulting. Her experiences and qualifications allow her to effectively recruit and supervise highly qualified teachers and staff for the First Children’s many programs. Susan also oversees and conducts successful educational programs throughout the state of NJ.

Pam has worked for First Children since July 2009 as the director of administration and the director of child care.  Prior to First Children, she worked at Children’s Specialized Hospital from 1972-2009. She worked as a senior nursing assistant in the Mountainside facility and moved to the Fanwood School in 1988 where she became the first infant room teacher in the child care program. In 1998, she became the child care director and stayed in that position until 2009 when she added director of administration to her duties.  Pam has worked with children 8 weeks through 21 years for over 46 years and has loved every moment of it.  She enjoys interacting with the children, whether it be feeding them, reading a story or just watching them grow. Pam keeps in touch with many of her graduates and is proud to say that she was a stepping stone for the terrific young adults that they’ve become.
 
Pam moved to Fanwood in 1962 and attended St. Bartholomew’s Elementary School and Union Catholic High School. She is a graduate of Kean University with a B.A. in psychology.

Caitlin Summers is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and currently serves as the Director of Student Focused Services at First Children Services. Caitlin comes to the agency after serving as a clinician working with children, adolescents, and families in the NJ foster and adoptive care system. She has an extensive background working with youth suffering from various mental health diagnoses, behavioral difficulties, trauma, and crisis’. Caitlin currently holds a certification as a Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral therapist. Ms. Summers sees the high importance of acknowledging and addressing the unresolved trauma of the individuals she serves.

Caitlin has received numerous trainings on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Nurtured Heart approach, mindfulness, ASD and I/DD, and positive behavioral support interventions as well as behavioral modifications. Currently, she is working on obtaining her certification as a CBT clinician. She believes strongly in the continued need to grow programming with the goal of providing the most therapeutically and ethically appropriate services to families served always taking a mindful and individualized approach with the individuals she is working with.  Caitlin is a creative, passionate and out of the box clinician. Ms. Summers received her Bachelors of Art in Psychology from The Richard Stockton College of NJ and her master’s degree in community counseling: marriage, couple, and family counseling and therapy from The College of New Jersey.

Steph is a state-licensed and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who holds a master’s degree in psychology and an undergraduate degree in social sciences. She has over nineteen years of experience in ABA, which includes working with individuals from 2- years- old through 22- years- old with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the home, school, and clinic settings. She has a background in working with children dual diagnosed with ASD and genetic disorders such as Fragile- X, Williams Syndrome, Downs Syndrome, and SATB-2/Nance- Horan Syndrome.

Steph prioritizes understanding and spreading awareness of cultural differences, family training, a whole-team approach to therapeutic services, and and building trusting relationships with families to increase the success of parent involvement.

Georgia is the NJ state’s ABA director, overseeing more than 35 BCBAs and behavior technicians in the field.  She reviews programming, data, and scheduling to confirm that the organization is providing consistent and quality services across the board, ensuring First Children’s goal to not only provide quality services but also provide meaningful and lasting change.  She also makes monthly site visits to our school district clients to help support our staff and confirm that they are being provided with the support they need to deliver quality services to the districts.

Georgia joined First Children Services in October of 2011, starting as a BCBA in the field working in school districts and providing services in home/community environments.  Additionally, she has been a program supervisor of First Children’s Strive center, helping to run clinic-based programs for children with autism as young as 2 years old.  She received her master’s degree from Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ and has been a BCBA since August 2014.

Brandon provides consultation for school districts and also provides in-home ABA services in the Southern New Jersey region.  He believes in the benefit of ABA for the clients he works with and knows that the work he does every day is giving his clients the tools to achieve their greatest potential.  Brandon has worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for the past 12 years in a private school setting and in-home services.  Brandon holds a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from The Florida Institute of Technology.  He has a strong interest in fitness and believes in incorporating fitness, sports, and exercise into the repertoires of the clients he serves. 

As the Regional Director of Pennsylvania, Kristen oversees all clinical programming and operations in the state. Kristen has extensive experience with analyzing and restructuring organizational systems, developing and implementing quality assurance standards to ensure best practice within clinical programming, and leading initiatives to grow and develop staff. 

Kristen is a state-licensed Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and has 15 years of experience in the field of ABA. Kristen received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a concentration in Criminology from Millersville University in 2008 and her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis from Saint Joseph’s University in 2011. Prior to starting with First Children Services in January 2021, Kristen previously worked as an Assistant Director of Educational Services at an Approved Private School in Berwyn, PA and the Executive Director of an ABA organization in Schwenksville, PA.  

Kristen is an avid lover of all outdoor activities. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and camping with her 7 year-old-son, Jack, and her 4 year-old-daughter, Alex.  

Jenessa is the Assistant Director at the Pottstown STRIVE Clinic. She graduated with her undergraduate degree from Eastern University in 2012 and earned her master’s degree in ABA from Temple University and Board Certification as a Behavior Analyst in 2018. Jenessa has worked in a variety of settings ranging from Residential Treatment Facilities, home based, clinic based, and Approved Private Schools in various capacities including direct care, Behavior Specialist, Behavior Analyst, Clinical Supervisor, and Assistant Director.

Jenessa’s experiences include working with adolescents, early intervention, social skills, severe behaviors, functional communication, parent training, and staff training. Jenessa has a strong passion for staff supervision and has been supervising individuals that are pursuing their certification since 2018. With her clients, Jenessa hopes to facilitate meaningful and functional behavior change that increases quality of life through collaboration with parents and other related services professionals. In her spare time, Jenessa enjoys baking, running, traveling, and playing with her dog.