Life-Changing Outcomes for Exceptional Kids

First Children Services Leadership Team

Joseph J. Hess, Jr.

President

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 Bancroft NeuroHealth, one of the country’s most prestigious organizations 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 J. Hess

Chief Executive Officer

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.

 

Howard Savin, Phd

Chief Clinical Officer and Advisor

Dr. Howard Savin provides oversight of treatment models and clinical services along with organization-wide Quality Improvement systems for First Children Services. Dr. Savin has a profound understanding of the complex needs of children with behavioral health challenges. He has over 40 years of experience working in the behavioral health care field. Prior to joining First Children Services, Dr. Savin served as the senior vice president at Beacon Health Options where he led product development and quality oversight of corporate autism services. Before its acquisition by Beacon, Dr. Savin founded Autism Services Group, LLC, a managed behavioral health care organization specializing in the management of autism insurance benefits on behalf of large health plans and served as CEO as a division of Beacon Health Strategies for four years. Prior to ASG and Beacon, Dr. Savin served as senior vice president, clinical affairs and director of research and training at Devereux for nearly ten years. His duties included quality management of clinical programs and services across Devereux’s national treatment network and leadership of Devereux’s American Psychological Association approved pre-doctoral Internship Program in Professional Psychology.

Dr. Savin is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, and he was formerly a Pennsylvania certified school psychologist and a Licensed Psychologist in Colorado. Dr. Savin holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology from the University of Georgia and a Master of Science in General-Theoretical Psychology from the University of Bridgeport. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Vermont. Over his career, Dr. Savin has been active in a number of provider and professional organizations, has authored a variety of professional publications, and currently serves as an editor for Autism Spectrum News. Dr. Savin has also given numerous presentations on clinical outcomes and the quality and accountability of behavioral healthcare services.

 

Valery Bailey, MPA

Vice President, Operations

Valery Bailey is vice president of operations for First Children Services. Valery formerly led finance and administration for Covenant House in Philadelphia and was responsible for building New Jersey operations for the Mentor Network, an organization serving children in foster care and children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She had a distinguished career as an executive within the New Jersey Department of Human Services and Department of Children and Families. Valery received her master’s degree in public administration from Rutgers University and her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Rowan University. Among her many awards, Valery was recognized by the National Association of Black Businesswomen in 2011 and the Stars Award for Excellence in 2014.

 

Christopher J. Perry

Controller

Christopher J. Perry is the controller of First Children Services who oversees accounting, finance, payroll and other areas related to business administration within the organization.  Chris comes to us with over 20 years of experience mostly in the healthcare field as a highly accomplished, goal-focused, and driven finance and operations management professional with a proven history of innovation and achievement.  Prior to joining First Children, Chris served as chief financial officer at St. Christopher Pediatric Associates and Hahnemann Physician Group; regional director of operations and finance with Tenet Healthcare; and lead business process engineer and manager of finance ERP implementation at Cooper Health System.

Throughout Chris’s career, he has established a reputation as a transformational leader who is driven by challenge, undeterred by obstacles, and committed to furthering standards of excellence.  His expertise encompasses all aspects of financial management, operational oversight, project management, and software implementation.  On the business development and administration side, he has demonstrated an ability to harness team strengths to improve performance operationally and financially by introducing improvements to develop new streams of revenue and cost controls.

Chris received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Centenary University and leadership certificate from The Wharton Business School.

 

Cindy Conley, MS, BCBA 

Director, Behavioral Health Treatment Services

In her role as First Children’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services (BHTS) clinical director, Cindy oversees all clinical services for the organization.  She has extensive experience applying the science of Applied Behavior Analysis, itself a learning approach, to district classroom settings.  Cindy has trained teachers and paraprofessionals in both private and public school settings, as well as in agencies in the school clinics, and home environments.  Cindy has worked in the human service field for more than 20 years.  She has experience working with teen mothers and chronically mentally ill adults, as well as children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder.  Cindy is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who holds a master’s degree in psychology and an undergraduate degree in sociology.  She has an extensive background working in urban environments both in the home and school setting.  Most recently, Cindy designed and implemented the service protocols for the Atlantic City School District creating therapeutic classrooms for some of the district’s most challenging students. She is versed in Nurturing Heart Approach, mindfulness, and trauma-informed interventions.

 

Kathleen McCarthy Gorski, MEd

Principal, First Children School

Kathleen McCarthy Gorski is the principal of the First Children School in Fanwood, NJ. 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.

Kathy is a passionate educator and visionary of academic/educational excellence for all children.

 

Ellen D’Amato, PhD

School Psychologist and Clinical Administrator, First Children School

Ellen D’Amato is the school psychologist and clinical administrator for First Children School. Dr. D’Amato has devoted her entire career to the delivery of services to students with developmental disabilities. As a special education teacher, learning disabilities teacher-consultant, 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.

Dr. D’Amato 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, Dr. D’Amato 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).

 

Goldman-featured-140x169Susan Goldman, MEd

Director, Community Educational Services

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. She 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.

 

Pamela Radel

Director of Administration

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.
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Kathleen Sheehy

Director of Human Resources

Kathleen Sheehy is director of human resources who has many responsibilities including recruitment and staffing, policy development and implementation, employee relations, payroll, and compliance. Kathleen has been the director of human resources at First Children since the fall of 2013. Kathleen has over 20 years of human resources experience as a generalist with a strong background in recruitment and employee relations. Her HR expertise was developed at such organizations as The National Audubon Society, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Children’s Specialized Hospital.

Kathleen graduated with her bachelors in business management with a concentration in human resources management from Binghamton University.

 

Sonia Cohen, MSc

Marketing Director

Sonia Cohen has been the marketing director of First Children Services since 2014.  She manages all facets of marketing for First Children including digital marketing, event marketing, advertising, public relations, and direct marketing. Sonia believes in the marketing philosophy that an organization should strive to satisfy its customers’ wants and needs while meeting the organization’s goals; and therefore, always focuses on customer service as the priority in all marketing of First Children’s programs and services. Since joining First Children Services, Sonia has been instrumental in the expansion of First Children Service’ market throughout New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Prior to joining First Children Services, Sonia worked in marketing management roles for Begley Law Group Elder and Disability Law Firm and Senior Helpers Home Care. She is the founder and leader of the South Jersey Pediatric Networking Group and has been an active member of several other local networking organizations. Sonia currently serves as the chairperson of the Camden County Children’s Inter-Agency Coordinating Council (CIACC) Educational Partnership Committee.

Sonia earned a Masters of Science in biomedical science from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Rutgers University Biomedical and Health Sciences in Piscataway, NJ. She received her Bachelor of the Arts in psychology and biology from Rutgers College in New Brunswick, NJ.

 

Steve Ripa, MBA

Director, Data Analytics

Steve Ripa is the director of data analytics for First Children Services.  Steve has been in business and management roles for his entire 36-year career. He has 26 years in the healthcare industry including 13 years at Bancroft and leading the South Jersey Eye Center in the roles of Board Chair and CEO for five years.  Steve received his undergraduate degree in Accounting/Business and his MBA from Rutgers University.

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