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.
Chief Executive Officer
Matthew Hess is Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of First Children Services. Matt is responsible for the general operations, financial management, and business development for all service lines. He led the effort to bring all business operations in-house resulting in a 20% reduction in administrative costs for First Children Services. Under his business development leadership, revenues have more than doubled in 3 years. In 2009, Matt co-founded First Children Learning Services with his father to provide community-based therapeutic services to children and youth throughout New Jersey.
Before joining First Children Services, Matt had several entrepreneurial pursuits in the entertainment and manufacturing industries. He has also be an adviser to a variety of start-ups throughout the tri-state area.
Matt attended Temple University with a concentration in Economics. He is an active investor in residential and specialized commercial real estate in the Philadelphia area. Matt holds a Pennsylvania Real Estate License, and is a member of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and Philly Startup Leaders.
Howard Savin, Ph.d.
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, M.P.A.
Vice President, Behavioral Health Treatment Services
Valery Bailey is Vice President of Behavioral Health Treatment Services 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.
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.
School Psychologist and Clinical Administrator
Dr. 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).
Melissa Langford, M.Ed.
Director, Transitional Education Services
Melissa Langford is Director of Transitional Education Services who oversees First Children’s Transitions Programs, STARZ and Twilight before and after school child care programs, and Virtual Academy. Melissa has been in the education field for over 20 years. She has served as a teacher, assistant principal, director and executive director of educational programs for students with behavior challenges and learning disabilities in both public schools and private sector. Melissa has successfully created and implemented school programs for children with behavior problems, mental health issues, and after school programs.
Melissa has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and is currently working on her M.B.A. in Health Care Administration.
Director of Clinical Services
Carla Johnson is Director of Clinical Services for First Children’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services. She is an established BCBA and has been with First Children Services since 2011. Carla was first introduced to the field of Applied Behavior Analysis during her undergraduate Clinical Psychology program at Keene State College. She has since gained a wide range of experience consulting and managing programs within public and private schools, private residences and group homes. Carla has worked with children of all ages conducting functional behavioral assessments as well as creating, implementing, and tracking the progress of individualized behavior plans and educational programs. She has extensive experience conducting assessments including ABLLS-R, Vineland, CARS and VB-MAPP. In addition, Carla is a certified CPI trainer and is able to certify others in this non-violent crisis prevention intervention program.
Carla graduated with honors from Simmons College with an Master’s in Behavioral Education and received her behavior analyst certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board®.
Certified School Social Worker
Eric Cherson is a school social worker in First Children’s Transitions Program who works with students to help them cope with anxiety challenges and school refusal. Eric is a New Jersey certified school social worker. He received his M.S.W. from the University of Pennsylvania with a concentration in School Social Work. He also received a Principal/Supervisor certificate from Rowan University and completed the three year clinical program at the Family Institute of Philadelphia. Eric joined First Children Services after retiring from the Burlington County Special Services School District after 38 years. He encouraged district use of nationally accredited crisis training (he became a trainer) and the use of excellent clinical and ethical social work practices. He supervised scores of graduate students from various local and regional social work programs, including students from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia and Temple Universities. Eric’s clinical practice was significantly influenced by the addition of mindfulness to his professional services after attending the 2011 Peace in Education Conference in Newark, featuring presentations by the Dalai Lama, among others. He has received training experiences with mindfulness field luminaries and researchers such as Doctors Dan Siegal and Deepak Chropra. Eric believes in empowering students and staff with knowledge about how their brains function so that students and staff can influence how they feel and act by learning and practicing mindfulness techniques, enabling better decision making.
Director, Community Educational Services
Susan Goldman is 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.
Director of Administration and Director of Child Care
Pamela Radel is Director of Administration and Director of Child Care who wears many hats at First Children Services including handling all vendor/Accounts Payable, payroll, community relations and HR in addition to overseeing First Children’s A Special Place Child Care Center in Fanwood, NJ. Pam has been working with young children for over 40 years and for First Children since 2009. As a graduate of Kean University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, she dedicated her life to her never ending passion for children. Pam has worked with children ages newborn through 21 years in various capacities including senior nursing assistant, infant room teacher and child care manager at Children’s Specialized Hospital. As a senior nursing assistant, Pam was responsible for the complete care of the child including all physical aspects, carrying out therapies, and working closely with families in the rehab process for their child. She has developed an expertise in recognizing developmental delays and she has worked not only with typically developing children but children with neurological problems, birth defects, and children with autism.
Pam’s favorite part of the day is 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.
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.
Kerianne Aub is Controller of First Children Services who oversees the financial department. Kerianne brings with her 20 years of experience in the healthcare and manufacturing environment which includes budgeting, forecasting, accounting, auditing, contract management, and financial modeling. She strives for excellence and welcomes a challenge to see the best results while ensuring fiscal soundness.
Keri received her Bachelor of Accounting degree from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She is a member of IAABO#34, a blood drive coordinator and a volunteer at JDRF.
Sonia Cohen is Marketing Director who manages all facets of marketing for First Children Services 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 in 2014, Sonia has been instrumental in the expansion of First Children Service’ market throughout New Jersey. 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 has experience in sales and marketing in senior living, medical specialty practices, and medical billing and collections. She is the founder and leader of the South Jersey Pediatric Networking Group and has been an active member in many 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.