From Tragedy to Triumph

Bringing hope and independence to those with spinal cord injuries

By Sue Baldani

Spinal cord injuries can happen to anyone at any time. Learning to cope with losing one’s independence and then gaining it back takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. Cheshire Home in Florham Park has been providing services to support these journeys since it opened its doors in 1981.

“I don’t think people realize that most of our residents were living normal lives before their accidents,” says marketing associate, Betsey Burgdorf. “They had jobs, drove cars, cared for their families, and then a tragic event occurred and now they’re in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. It has a dramatic effect on the individual, the family, and the community.”

Spinal cord injuries, she says, can happen in numerous ways. “We have two residents who dove into the surf at Long Beach Island, hit sandbars and broke their necks. We have landscapers who fell out of trees or people who have been in car accidents. We also have residents with genetic issues such as spina bifida and others with lupus.”

Cheshire meets the needs of many patients, especially younger ones, who are suffering from not only spinal cord injuries but neurological impairments as well. Its staff works tirelessly to help residents leave its facility and rejoin their communities.

“We focus on being a transitional facility, which means patients are only here while they recover, although we do have some long term patients who have  been here from the beginning,” says Betsey. “But we’re really focusing on teaching them what they need in order to regain their independence.” This can  take up to three years or more.

The facility offers 24/7 care, an expert nursing care specialized in spinal cord and neurological treatments, and on-site physical and occupational therapy. “We work with residents on their goals, whatever their goals are,” she says. “There is always a plan in place, but it’s affected by motivation and medical setbacks, which sometimes happen.” Some patients who had limited or no use of their arms and hands have actually regained function by the time they leave, which is huge.

Having these types of resources, explains Betsey, is one of the main reasons why Cheshire Home is so successful. “We had one gentleman who was involved in a car crash in his early twenties and kind of bounced around. He was almost put into a nursing home, but because he was so young, he ended up here instead. He moved out about a year and a half ago, and now lives in Madison and has a full time job. He’s really one of our great success stories.”

She said one of the biggest obstacles to integrating people back into the community is wheelchair accessible accommodations. “With the disability laws, things have gotten easier, but there are still a lot of barriers.” For example, curbs and steps in front of businesses are often insurmountable and things most able-bodied people don’t even notice.

Everyday operating costs and these extraordinary services do not come cheap, so the nonprofit offers many fundraisers, such as 5K races and other events, to help residents reach their goals. A fun one is their upcoming 40th Anniversary Gala being held on Thursday, November 10, at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park.

“There’ll be a dinner, a DJ, a live auction, a slideshow and more,” says Betsey. Master of Ceremonies will be Senator Jon M. Bramnick, and four honorees, including Senator Declan O’Scanlon, Jr., will be speaking about their support of those with spinal cord injuries. Tickets are available now on its website.  

To find out more about Cheshire Home and how to help support its mission, go to

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

The Art of Rock

Experience the creative magic of some of your favorite musicians

By Sue Baldani

Many of us remember when we first attended a concert and saw our favorite rock artist. Maybe we bought a t-shirt or a poster to bring home to remember the incredible experience.

Now, Wentworth Gallery offers an amazing way to connect with some of our favorite rock and roll artists in an even more tangible way. “What really started it was when we began working with Paul Stanley from Kiss about 15 to 20 years ago,” says Christian O’Mahony, owner of Wentworth Gallery. “He’s very creative in a lot of different areas and artwork for him was therapeutic. He never really thought about it as a commercial venture.”

When Christian saw his paintings and realized how talented he was, he wanted to represent him. “We started doing shows with Paul and they were immensely successful. A lot of people were buying his paintings, some without knowing who Kiss was or who were not really into the music. It was the artwork itself that really touched them.”

Word got out and Christian started picking up other musical artists such as Michael Cartellone from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rick Allen from Def Leppard. “From there we got Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead, Brian Wheat from Tesla, Charlie Benante from Anthrax, and the late Ric Ocasek from the Cars. I have his only collection of artwork.”

Christian has become the go-to person for successful musicians and even celebrities who have a passion for art and want to expand into this avenue. “First and foremost, they have to be good artists, and secondly, they have to understand that art shows are a little bit different than rock and roll meet and greets. They are more personal and much more intimate.”

This is a major component of what makes Wentworth Gallery stand out. “It’s a combination of the art in some way touching them, but it’s also the incredible experience that somebody could have with someone they’ve admired artistically.”

So, if a customer were to purchase a painting done by, say, Rick Allen, either at a show or beforehand, when Allen comes to the gallery, they get to meet him. “They spend real time with him,” says Christian. “They might even have dinner afterwards.”

Wentworth has also offered private concerts for buyers. “I’ve done that with Paul Stanley and Rick Allen,” he says. “More recently, I’ve done it with one of my new artists, legendary solo guitarist Joe Satriani. If you’re a fan of Joe and you really like his artwork, you not only get a beautiful painting, but you also get to sit through a private concert. Or, if you purchase one of his paintings on a guitar, perhaps you would actually go up on stage with him and jam.

“We offer these lifetime experiences. So, it’s not just a beautiful painting on a wall; it actually has a story behind it.”

Wentworth Gallery has 10 galleries up and down the East Coast, and Christian plans to have more incredible shows coming up in the next year at the Mall at Short Hills location. “I expect Rick Allen, Paul Stanley, and Joe Satriani all to make appearances.”

Artwork, he says, is a lifetime acquisition. “It’s different than buying a shirt or a pair of pants. It’s for you; it’s for your family.” And, it can be acquired by people of all backgrounds; it’s not just for the wealthy. “We have many different price points, and we also offer 24 months interest-free financing with no money down to make it affordable for almost everybody.”

One of the reasons why many Wentworth Gallery locations are in malls, he explains, is that he wants people to feel comfortable coming in. “When people are walking down a street and see an art gallery, they might feel intimidated. So, we try to take down the walls and not have people feel like they need an art degree to walk in.”

Another factor that makes Wentworth stand out is its white-glove service. “When you’re at a gallery and something catches your eye, you might have a hard time envisioning what it would look like in your house,” says Christian. “You don’t know if it’s going to be too big or too small. You don’t know if your spouse is going to like it.”

In order to make the decision easier, Wentworth offers what they call a Home Show. “We bring the artwork within 25 miles of any of our galleries without any financial obligation. We can also hang them for you, and at that point you can decide which pieces, if any, you would like to purchase. It really takes away the anxiety.” They will also come and hang the piece if you just purchase it from the gallery.

To see these rock and roll and other incredible artists, go to

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Turning Trauma into Smiles

A ranch where happiness reigns supreme

By Sue Baldani

At Freedom Reigns Ranch, people and horses work together to heal one another. Although primarily focused on teenagers, the organization also assists children and young adults who have been through trauma.

Founder and Executive Director, Carissa Ramsdell, can sympathize with those who come to the farm, both human and animal. “Because of the abuse and trauma I endured growing up, I was super angry at the world, at God, and everyone and everything,” she says. “But God basically used my horse, Boston, who was also dealing with a difficult past, to save my life. Through working and training with my horse, God unlocked my own heart.”

Freedom Reigns Ranch was officially founded in October of 2015, but Carissa was helping kids with her horse, which she got in 2009, long before that. “Some kids from church were going through some challenging things, and being outside with one of God’s most beautiful creatures was really something that brought them a lot of peace.”

While caring for and training with Boston, she watched them become more confident and empowered. “They stepped outside of their own comfort zones in a way that led to growth, not only with a horse, but in their everyday lives. We basically combined a broken horse with a child whose heart had been shattered and watched God heal both at the same time.”

Shortly after, a friend came to volunteer, someone donated a pony, and then she ended up taking a rescue horse that had been abandoned in a dog pen. “It just snowballed, and all of a sudden these kids were coming and more people were coming to help,” says Carissa. “Then more horses needed rescuing too.”

At that point, she knew she had to start her own nonprofit. “Caring for horses is expensive, plus we felt from the very beginning that we were never supposed to charge anything. So, we really needed to create an avenue for folks who believed in what we were doing to support it.”

This summer, the ranch will have officially provided over 10,000 hours of mentorship. “We have about 50 individuals that come twice a month for the season and some who stay for multiple seasons because they really need this safe space in order to continue to thrive in their lives,” she says.

For many of these kids, getting up on a horse and trusting it is life changing. “I see this unbelievable thing happening where they’re building this relationship with the horse,” she says. “We usually share that horse’s story – over half of our herd has their own history of abuse, starvation and neglect. As you watch, it’s like these puzzle pieces coming together and you see how they realize that the horse that had been thrown away by the world means the world to them and they connect that with their own life. That then translates into their own emotional sense of wellbeing.”

The ranch has been leasing about eight acres in Thompson’s Station, which houses 12 horses, but it needs to expand in order to provide its services to more people. “We have a wait list that extends 12 to 16 months and over a hundred kids are on it,” says Carissa. “Our hope and prayer is for someone to grant or donate 25 to 40 acres somewhere in Southern Williamson County or even Northern Murray County.”

They’re also busy raising money for a long-term lease and/or to build up the new land and make any renovations necessary. Individuals and corporations can go to #UNimpossible to donate. “We will be doing a big fundraising push on Giving Tuesday on November 29 that will be social-media based.”

They were also planning on doing a fundraising gala on September 10, but since money is tight for everyone right now, they’ll be having a fun hoedown for the community and donors instead.  “We’re doing it true to our style – it’s a boots and bling style hoedown,” she says.

Carissa says she’s amazed and overwhelmed to be a part of something like this. “Going from not having a reason to live 10 or 15 years ago and feeling like I would never overcome what I had been through to watching so many kids find hope again, there is nothing better. Watching the trajectory of their lives change course because God chose to use a horse to reach their hearts – I’ve seen it so many times and it’s special every time.” 

To help with its mission, go to

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.