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.
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.
Ashley currently serves as Marketing Coordinator for First Children Services. In her role, Ashley develops a high-level strategy for all First Children Services social media channels, which includes daily posting, storytelling, and building creative content with the goal of creating highly viewed posts and interacting with followers. She also supports marketing campaigns and efforts throughout the organization. Additionally, Ashley leads First Children’s Employee Engagement Committee.
Prior to joining First Children, Ashley held marketing and communications positions at Bancroft and Autism New Jersey respectively. Ashley has experience in web development, event planning, social media management, content creation, videography and digital media. Ashley graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Film, TV & Radio with a minor in Sociology from Rider University in 2016.
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.
Judy is the New Jersey Clinical Training Coordinator as well as a 10-year certified Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst. Judy has her Batchelor’s of Science in Speech and Language Pathology from Richard Stockton University and her BCaBA certification from the University of North Texas. Prior to beginning her career with First Children Services, Judy worked as a Speech and Language Pathologist in a southern New Jersey special services school district, a behavior specialist and a BCaBA with a Southern New Jersey neurologist practice and with adults receiving DDD services through the state of New Jersey as a BCaBA. She has extensive experience working with children and young adults ages 2 – 21 on the various multiple disability spectrums.
She began with First Children Services in December of 2016 as a BCaBA, became the New Jersey Lead Behavior Analyst and was eventually promoted to her current position. With FCS she has been able to not only increase her knowledge base but also share what she has learned with her collogues in this field and those that are related.
Judy believes that if we can give caregivers a strong knowledge base and teach them how to functionally use basic behavior skills and intervention, they will be reinforced and find success. When caregivers find success, our children thrive.
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.